It’s official: DeMarco Murray will be a free agent. The NFL’s leading rusher in 2014 was not designated as the Cowboys’ Franchise Tag player this week, which was given to elite receiver and impending free agent Dez Bryant instead. Murray will have the opportunity to shop his skills to a bevy of suitors with the goal of landing a robust long-term deal with the team of his choice.
The question I’d like to consider for the New York Giants is whether or not Jerry Reese, and the rest of the front office, should ultimately pursue Murray in free agency; or bolster the running back position through the draft or more affordable options in free agency.
The first order of business for the front office is to assess the current depth at running back. Rashad Jennings struggled to stay healthy in his first season with the Giants, and Andre Williams didn’t showcase every-down-back ability in his afforded playing time. It also must be noted that David Wilson, who was forced to retire prematurely due to severe neck injuries, figured to play a major game-breaking role last season. The unit as a whole underwhelmed in 2014 and the Giants gained just 1605 yards on the ground last season compared to the 2162 their defense gave up. A 500-yard deficit in the running game was a death sentence for a team that was muddled with injuries and the implantation of a new offensive passing attack.
Taking a look at Murray specifically there has been plenty to praise over the last couple of seasons. 2014 was DeMarco’s crown jewel. He played 16 games (for the first time in his career) and was able to amass 1845 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. At times Murray looked indefensible behind a savvy Cowboys offensive-line, and he became the workhorse of the offense.
DeMarco does come with some major drawbacks. Unfortunately for Murray, he’s dealt with a career full of injuries that have affected his stability on the gridiron; he also carried the ball 392 times last season on the ground alone. In football circles there is an unfortunate phenomena that occurs to running backs that handle 370+ carries in a season. Running backs take a beating during such seasons and the overwhelming majority of players are never able to duplicate the statistical output of a 370+ carry season again. The list of players who were victimized by this general scenario include Michael Turner, Shaun Alexander, Marcus Allen, Larry Johnson, Edgerrin James, Curtis Martin and many more. Statistics shows that Murray falls into this category, and history doesn’t bode well for long-term success after such a physically demanding campaign.
In my opinion the best option for the Giants to upgrade their backfield appears to be the upcoming draft. The 2015 draft is deep with backs that should be available in 2nd and 3rd days of the draft. A choice should come down to team needs; is an all-around back like Georgia’s Todd Gurley or Miami’s Duke Johnson the most enticing, or is an explosive speed back such as Ameer Abdullah a better fit as a complement to the incumbent backs?
The Verdict: After much deliberation, the choice is simple. The Giants need to stay way from Demarco Murray. The only running backs to successfully sustain a 370+ carry season’s production level the following year are Eric Dickerson, Walter Payton and LaDainian Tomlinson. It’s foolish to expect Murray to perform at the level of 3 of the greatest running backs in NFL history, when the numbers indicate significantly more pedestrian results.