30-year-old veteran running back DeMarco Murray was released from the Tennessee Titans last Thursday after serving as the team’s main back for two years, presumably due to concerns over his age and productivity.
While he played and started in most of the team’s games last season, his carries were largely shared with younger rusher Derrick Henry. Last season was the first since 2012 where Murray failed to break 1,000 yards – a sharp decline after leading the AFC last year with nearly 1,300 rushing yards. In their announcement, Titans GM Jon Robinson acknowledged Murray’s influence on the team both in the locker room and on the field. “He was a pro in every facet,” Robinson said, “And we wish him […] the best moving forward.”
Since his release, the New England Patriots are said to be a potential landing spot for Murray. Barring a miracle, Dion Lewis is largely expected to depart the team to chase a paycheck elsewhere. Rumors around the football circuit tell us that at least four teams are bidding for Lewis. However, New England’s other breakout back Rex Burkhead could also end up with another team after having the best season of his career in his first year with the Pats. With two running backs potentially gone, the team will have yet another hole to patch outside of their defensive concerns.
Enter Murray. His build is similar to that of young Mike Gillislee, but Murray is the kind of running back the Patriots missed after letting LeGarrette Blount sign with the Philadelphia Eagles (a move that made him a back-to-back Super Bowl champion). Murray may not ever see the numbers he saw with the Dallas Cowboys, but the Patriots don’t need him for that. New England just needs someone who can fill the gaps left open by Lewis and (potentially) Burkhead.
Gillislee is an effective runner, and he should be able to stretch the flashes of brilliance we saw early last season across all of next season. Additionally, the pass-catching abilities of both Murray and White would be solid replacements if Burkhead decides to move on. The team doesn’t need him to run every play. I don’t believe he’d want to run every play at his age anyway. Sticking Murray in goal line or red zone situations could allow him to put up numbers similar to Blount. Conversely, he could split starting runs with Gillislee and leave third down and red zone plays to James White.
It’s a win-win situation for both sides. Murray won’t have to risk injury by being the main rusher, and New England brings on a respected player that can educate their young rushing corps. Simply put, Murray can catch, Murray can block, and best of all, Murray will likely go for cheap.
New England isn’t swimming in cap space this year, and this smells like a classic Bill Belichick signing. Picking up Murray on a veteran deal with low guarantees and added incentives makes sense. New England fills a gap and Murray joins a true contender. Signing a respected, capable veteran may not replace Lewis’ agility, but could offset eventual losses at the position.
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