PHILADELPHIA -- DeMarco Murray could be excused if he didn’t understand the protocol.
In his previous career stop, Murray worked for one of the few NFL teams in which the owner is immersed in the daily operations. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is perhaps the most hands-on owner in all of sports. If Murray had a problem in Dallas, it was not that big a deal to talk to Jones about it.
With the Philadelphia Eagles, going to talk to owner Jeff Lurie is a big deal. Especially when it becomes public, as Murray’s end-around of coach Chip Kelly did Tuesday. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that Murray, unhappy with his shrinking role in Kelly’s offense, met with Lurie.
Murray has legitimate issues. He signed a $40 million free-agent deal with the Eagles in March. Kelly had just been given full control of personnel moves and he needed a running back to replace LeSean McCoy, the man he traded away.
The Murray deal was done quickly, and there was little time to discuss the scope of the new relationship. The Eagles were paying Murray like a star running back, and he no doubt expected to be treated like one.
Kelly the personnel guy and Kelly the coach should have been on the same page here. Kelly told the world that Murray would be a better fit in his offense than McCoy was. Considering McCoy led the NFL in rushing in 2013, that’s a pretty bold assertion to make.
But Kelly pushed that idea hard. Murray is a "downhill" runner, one who gets to the hole quickly, makes one cut and then goes. McCoy, by implication, was too prone to moving left to right, looking for room to run. When he found it, McCoy made spectacular runs. When he didn’t, McCoy got tackled in the backfield.
On paper, Kelly’s plan looked sound. On the field, it has not. Murray gets tackled for losses several times a game. He carried the ball eight times for 24 yards at New England on Sunday, with a long gain of 19 yards. You don’t gain the remaining five yards on the other seven carries without some negative yardage in there.
Early in the season, it seemed as if the Eagles' offensive line was the problem. Murray didn’t have room to run. He gained 11 yards on 21 carries in the Eagles’ first two games.
When he missed the third game with a hamstring injury, Ryan Mathews started against the New York Jets. Mathews carried the ball 24 times for 108 yards. Suddenly, the offensive line didn’t seem to be a problem. After watching Murray for two weeks, Mathews appeared to be running in fast-forward.
Murray, who rushed for more than 100 yards in 11 games in 2014, has topped 100 just once with the Eagles. He gained 112 yards on 21 carries in the Eagles’ 27-7 win against the New York Giants on Oct. 19.
He has gotten 20 carries just once more. Against the New England Patriots, Darren Sproles started and got the bulk of the carries. Murray carried the ball just eight times.
"All of our running backs knew our game plan going into that game, so it wasn't a surprise to anybody in terms of what we were doing," Kelly said Monday. "We have to do what's the best thing for the Philadelphia Eagles. So we are not trying to win a rushing championship or a passing championship or a receiving championship or anything from that stretch of the imagination. We are just trying to win football games."
The Eagles did win the game at New England. But it seems Kelly might have lost something in his relationship with Murray.
Murray’s deal runs through 2019 and includes $18 million in guaranteed money. To trade or release Murray, the Eagles would have to absorb $13 million in dead money on their salary cap next season. That is a significant cap hit.
It is typical around the NFL for coaches to grumble about the players they have been given by their general manager. Kelly the coach clearly tired of the way his offense was running with Murray in the backfield. The problem is, Kelly the personnel guy is the one who saddled the coach with Murray in the first place.
It is understandable if Murray thought the appropriate recourse was to talk to the owner. That’s how it worked in Dallas. It is not how it works in Philadelphia.