Why the Vikings Should Cut Latavius Murray

Here's one way the Vikings could both upgrade and diversify the running back group in 2018

The Minnesota Vikings acquired running back Latavius Murray last offseason following the departure of Adrian Peterson. Instead of paying Peterson $18 million, the team agreed to terms with Murray on a 3-year deal worth roughly $15 million.

Murray underwent “minor” ankle surgery a week after signing, but all seemed well as he had just come off a 12-touchdown season in Oakland. He was expected to be ready for training camp.

A little more than a month after signing Murray, the Vikings selected rookie Dalvin Cook in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Both Murray and Cook were expected to compete for the starting job against the only RB holdover from the 2016 team, Jerick McKinnon.

Instead, Murray was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list when camp began. Due to the ankle procedure, Murray missed offseason team activities, as well as a good portion of training camp. He was finally activated off the PUP list on August 7th.

With Cook firmly entrenched as the starter at this point, Murray got off to a very slow start. Through the first three weeks of the regular season, he had 17 rushing yards, including a fumble. It was obvious the ankle was still a factor.

Then, in Week 4, Cook went down with a season-ending ACL injury. The Vikings had to improvise by forming a two-headed rushing attack that featured both Murray and McKinnon. By that time, Murray’s ankle had healed. Behind the team’s upgraded offensive line, the ‘thunder and lightning’ duo formed a solid one-two punch out of the backfield.

Murray found a groove in the middle of the season. Although he split carries with McKinnon, Murray finished the season with 842 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry.

It’s odd to suggest cutting a player who compiled those kind of stats, right? So if you’ve made it this far, I applaud you.

Let me start by reminding you Dalvin Cook is scheduled to return to the field next season. Do the Vikings really need Murray as an expensive backup? Secondly, once the Vikings reached the postseason, Murray stumbled. With the season on the line he ran for 68 yards on 25 carries with one touchdown, in two games. He averaged 2.7 YPC.

The sudden decline in production, while noteworthy, may not be the only matter causing concern for the team.

Mike Florio of NBC’s Pro Football Talk (PFT) suggested the organization may have not known the extent of his lingering ankle injury before signing him last offseason. By not receiving full disclosure from Murray, the team may see that as a reason to dump his salary.

Murray finished 19th in the league in rushing yards, but his average salary of $5 million/season was 10th-highest in the NFL. By releasing Murray the Vikings would save $5.15 million in cap space and take a $1.2 million dead cap hit. His 2018 base salary of $5.15 million is scheduled to guarantee on Friday, March 16th.

Between the drop in production in the playoffs, a high risk of re-injury and hefty cap fees of $6.35 million and $5.6 million the next two seasons, the franchise may see Murray as expendable. Instead of using the money on him, here’s what the Vikings could do:

Re-sign Jerick McKinnon

Unlike Murray, McKinnon flashed in the playoffs. After scoring a touchdown on the ground against the Saints, the ‘Jet’ took off in the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles. McKinnon ran 10 times for 40 yards and caught 11 passes for 86 yards, leading the team in both rushing and receiving yards.

His effort wasn’t enough to carry the team to a win, but nonetheless, McKinnon had an impressive 2017 season. The 2014 3rd-round pick posted career-highs in rushing yards (570), total touchdowns (5), receiving yards (421), and catches (51).

McKinnon is scheduled to become a free agent on March 14th. He’s made it known publicly that he’d like to be the focal point of an offense, and has made it clear that he plans to test the open market. However, the Vikings appear to have interest in bring him back, and they have plenty of cap room.


McKinnon stirred up Vikings fans by posting this tweet on his Twitter feed Wednesday night. The post could easily have nothing to do with football, but maybe McKinnon knows something we don’t?

According to Spotrac, McKinnon’s market value is roughly $4 million annually on a new contract. Instead of letting him become an unrestricted free agent, the Vikings could use the money they’d save by cutting Murray and offer it to McKinnon. To keep him from landing elsewhere, the team would also have to convince him that his role would change under new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

It may be risky to release Murray without assurance of re-signing McKinnon, but running back is considered a very replaceable position and options are aplenty in free agency and the draft.

Target LeGarrette Blount

One of those options is free agent LeGarrette Blount.

DeFilippo, who told Paul Allen on KFAN that he enjoys “diversity” in his running back group, has a close connection to the free agent running back. Both were part of the Philadelphia Eagles team that beat the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game on their way to a Super Bowl victory.

In Super Bowl LII, Blount ran for 90 yards against his former team, the New England Patriots. Between the Patriots and Eagles, the bruiser now has three Super Bowls rings. Blount, a common contributing factor of those teams, has found success in the playoffs. In 11 career playoff games he has 11 rushing touchdowns with a 4.3 YPC average. His 11 rushing TD’s are tied with Marcus Allen for the sixth-most in NFL postseason history.

The 8-year veteran is a powerful runner and like Murray, excels in short-yardage and goal line scenarios.

Blount rushed for 766 yards in 2017, only 76 less than Murray, yet made nearly $2 million less in salary. With a cap number of $1.25 million last season (plus added incentives), Blount should be an affordable option.

Boasting a running back depth chart of Cook, McKinnon and Blount, each with a distinct skill set, would provide DeFilippo and the Vikings offense with a diverse set of backfield weapons.

In order to re-sign McKinnon and target Blount, releasing Murray is an avenue the Vikings should most definitely explore.

Running BackLatavius MurrayJerick McKinnonLeGarrette Blount
Weight225 lbs.205 lbs.245 lbs.
Career Starts421454
Career Rushing Attempts7594741,341
Career Rushing Yards3,1201,9185,888
Average YPA4.14.04.4
Career Rushing Touchdowns28751
Career Receptions10614254
Career Receiving Yards742984387
Career Receiving Touchdowns052
Average YPR7.06.97.2
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Sean Borman

Sean Borman is a writer with Minnesota roots that's still somehow an optimist. He was an intern with the Vikings during college and previously wrote for Rant Sports. You can find Sean on the golf course and on Twitter @SeanBoarMan.

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  1. While it was great to see Murray occasionally break free for those 10-20 yard scampers, more often than not he seemed to go down (despite seemingly open running lanes) so easily. It was a consistent point of frustration to watch, knowing that good run blocking efforts by the O-Line were ending up as “wasted” downs. I think we can do better, especially for the price tag. Thanks for your service Latavius, but it’s time for the Vikings to move on.

    1. I don’t dislike the guy, but from an economical viewpoint he’s the 10th-highest paid RB in NFL in terms of average salary. Like you said Andrew, the Vikings can get a better bang for their buck

      1. I did the math – well, my spreadsheet did the math – so as to be fair, and IF Cook had not been drafted AND Murray had been healthy those first four weeks AND the Murray/McKinnon rotation had been in effect for the whole season, as originally planned, then based on the 12 games for which he was healthy and the rotation was in effect, Murray would have gained 1,072 yards at an average of 4.0 yards/attempt and he would have rushed for 11 touchdowns. That would have made him the eighth ranked back in the league in yards rushing and third in rushing touchdowns while being the 10th best paid running back. The salary would have therefore been justified; however, if the degree of the ankle injury was hidden from the team, he was probably incapable of putting up the numbers in those first four games as he did in the last 12, and the salary goes back to being excessive, and arguably fraudulent, if that’s not too strong a word.

        1. Of course you’d extrapolate his stats 🙂 I thought Florio brought up an interesting point. As I remember, the team said at the time of the surgery he would be ready for training camp. He wasn’t. It obviously turned out okay, but there could be some distrust there. The team may have been in some trouble early in the season had it not been for Cook.

    1. Funny, I was actually thinking about that the other day. Don’t think the team would be interested in such a move from a PR standpoint

      1. Plus he doesn’t fit the system anymore and there’s a real question as to whether he can even be a successful rotational runner, or does he need 17.5 or more runs per game to be effective?

  2. LM is completely mediocre. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. He isn’t very fast. He isn’t very shifty. Really the only thing he is, is big. So his role should be battering ram. But he runs so upright that it is the defense that is hitting him, not vice versa. I don’t think their were many runs, if any, where he got anything more than what the OLine opened up for him. It was a very common occurrence for me to see LM get tackled and then think to myself DC would’ve taken that all the way.

      1. Overall I felt he did a pretty good job once his ankle felt better. But, I see risk in bringing him back (due to the ankle) and there were just too many occasions when he was tackled in the backfield. Didn’t see much of that from Cook/Jet

        1. And yet, Murray finished the season with a higher yards/attempt than McKinnon did, even with Murray supposedly getting hit more in the backfield, which is really more a question of the offensive line’s competence than the running back’s anyway.

          I did see some good runs by Murray that didn’t seem to be generated by the OL, and I believe I’ve read that he is legitimately fast, especially for his size. On the other hand, I remember a string of comments coming from Raiders fan sites and, I think, professional sportswriters that, for all his 230 pounds, he doesn’t “fall forward” all that much, i.e., he doesn’t run with the power that he should.

          1. I’m not taking away from Murray’s 2017 performance (much), that was just an observation. I thought he did a fine job. I just see more potential with McKinnon than Murray, especially with Cook back in the mix. I believe McKinnon is the better overall back, so naturally, the team should try to keep the better player. Right?

            1. McKinnon’s certainly the more explosive runner and receiver, but I’m not sure he’s better all-around. His greatly diminished average per rush really concerns me, and for all the talk of his putting on muscle, he still is more of a threat to get a touchdown as a receiver than as a runner. I will say that while Murray might be more of a change-of-pace from Cook, McKinnon might be more of a plug-and-go in the same plays as Cook, and I imagine that that kind of consistency can be good for a somewhat shaky OL.

              1. Good points, especially in regards to consistency with the offensive line. There’s likely value in having a change-of-pace option, which is why I mentioned Blount as option if Murray is cut. I also believe McKinnon’s versatile skill set has been under-utilized, which may be something new OC John DeFilippo can use to his advantage if Jet is re-signed.

  3. I like this plan, and I would be on board if that is the way we decide to go. But for one, I find it hard to believe McKinnon is interested in returning to Minnesota in a rotational role. It might be an easier sell if we go with the Cook/Blount/McKinnon combo, but he would still not be the lead back. On the other hand, I like Murray with Cook, and we could easily draft a third RB who may be just as good if not better than McKinnon. In a perfect world, I like keeping McKinnon in the role he is in, along with Murray and Cook, AND STILL draft another RB. I feel we can be more effective/formidable with a deep RB stable. Defensive minded teams need a strong run game to support them. It’s gonna be a fun offseason. I just hope we make the right moves, whatever they may be. SKOL

    1. You’re right Robert, the toughest part of this plan is the team convincing Jet to return. But if they’re able to, picture for a moment opposing defenses trying to cover Cook and McKinnon in a two-back set with Thielen/Diggs/Rudolph on the field at the same time…

      1. McKinnon is NOT going to return as strictly a third down back, or RB3. He wants money and touches, and while I think he is probably unrealistic about being THE man, it is likely that he can and will be signed to be a team’s RB1a, RB1b or a well-used RB2 in a rotational system. As a RB3, he would have only gotten maybe 120 touches in 2017, and that including kick-off returns. As a RB2, let’s say, he could expect 240 or more touches on the season, and that excluding any KR duties.

        The only way McKinnon comes back to the Vikings is as Cook’s rotational partner, not even as his pure back-up, and certainly not with a Muray or Blount in the mix.

        1. You don’t think that’s possible? With Cook coming off injury I can see the team easing him back into action, with (possibly) McKinnon as the main beneficiary of more touches

          1. Not with Murray or Blount in the way. A rookie or Ham, sure, but not an established guy already getting some of Cook’s snaps. The reason why Foles might be enticed to stay with the Eagles is because Wentz was injured so late in the season and is more than likely to miss the start of the season. Cook, one the other hand, was injured early in the season and should be on the road to returning for opening day, or very, very close. Heck, whenever Cook comes back, if McKinnon were looking at getting only the five or so rushes per game that he AND Murray were getting in the first four games of last season, he’d be a very unhappy camper.

            No, if I had to wager on it, I’d say McKinnon and probably Easton will be joining Shurmur in New Jersey. Now if only we could convince Shurmur to trade Eli Apple for Treadwell!

              1. Yes, I’m aware of that, but that hasn’t stop rampant speculation that he could press the Eagles for a trade, or that other teams could come waving a second or even first round pick under the Eagles’ noses.

            1. I hear you, Cook dominated touches as the feature back. Will that continue next season? That remains to be seen. Easton is a RFA and could get an offer from another team. Coming off a broken ankle, I’m interested to see what kind of tender the Vikings place on him.

    1. I get what you’re saying because Murray/Cook have different styles (bruiser, feature back), thus there’s more variety and flexibility with those two than McKinnon/Cook, who have similar skill sets. However, McKinnon can be a kick returner, emergency QB (what he played in college), he can line up as a receiver, etc. He’s very versatile, as is Cook. Being able to utilize both Cook and Jet at the same time could be very difficult to defend. Plus, I believe Murray and his role are replaceable, especially when has the 9th-highest cap number on the team.

      1. You might be right about Murray’s role, at least as a short-yardage runner, being replaceable. Murray’s averaged a TD every 27 rushes in his career, while Matt Asiata managed one TD every 20 rushes. Do you know what Murray and McKinnon’s PFF blocking grades were in 2017 or, better yet, going back to 2014 AND broken down by pass blocking and run blocking?

        Not that I’m asking for much, of course. Heavens, no.

        1. Murray is considered one of the better pass-blocking running backs in the league. In 2016 he tied for the 3rd-highest grade earned by a RB in terms of pass blocking (83.5 PFF grade) but I don’t have access to the other #’s at the moment.

          While McKinnon has improved in this regard, he’s not as strong as Murray in pass protection.

          Blount is also solid in this department.

  4. RB is one of those positions that can be upgraded later in the draft. I wouldn’t worry about cutting Murray either frankly.

  5. Spielman will more likely try to get Murray to restructure his contract and take a pay cut reflecting his expected back-up status next season than actually cut him. I can live with Murray being cut, but let’s all be realistic about the kinds of backs that would replace him and/or McKinnon.

    For all the talk of the Eagles trading for Ajayi in the middle of the season and having some kind of three-headed monster running back rotation, they went into the playoffs with a franchise back (Ajayi) who was only getting rotational carries, a 31-year old mostly rotational guy in Blount with only one “Franchise RB” season in eight – and he was fading the last month of the season – and an un-drafted rookie who actually pick up a couple of runs and a few receptions after the Ajayi trade, where two other back-ups virtually disappeared. That is not a sustainable situation for the long-term, especially if Ajayi wants to get franchise RB touches and money, Blount wants to stay a full-fledged rotational back (10-12.5 rushes per game) instead of warming the bench on 90% of the offensive snaps, and you’ve got not one but two good youngsters who each ran almost five times a game in their rookie seasons.

    The Vikings are not going to be able to satisfy their own franchise back (Cook averaged 18.5 runs and four passing targets in his four games last season) and two five-year veterans like Murray (roughly 12.5 rushes and 2.2 targets per game in 61 games played, but only 3.5 runs and .5 targets while Cook was in the spotlight) and McKinnon (approximately 8.2 rushes and 3.3 targets in 58 games played, but only 2.5 runs and 3 targets in Cook’s four games). Cook, Blount and either LM or JM is equally unrealistic. Cook and either Murray OR McKinnon OR Blount plus a rookie is possible, but a free agent RB2 is going to want assurances that he is going to get a reasonable number of rushes and targets, not the laughable numbers that M&M shared behind Cook during the first quarter of the 2017 season. If the team pushes Murray to restructure his deal too hard, he might prefer being cut, and the team could have to scramble to replace both of their backups instead of just one.

    1. I believe the Vikings have a competent enough front office to replace two RB’s this offseason, especially if they planned for cutting Murray, which I’m sure they have at least discussed.

      Blount will go where he has an opportunity to win another Super Bowl (just like he decided to do last offseason) and get a few touches per game in a situational role. I don’t think carries are a HUGE issue for a 31 year-old like him.

      With a new offensive coordinator in DeFilippo I think it’s very possible to spread out touches to each player in the trio while still having a defined role for all three backs.

      Restructuring Murray is an option, but he may decline. Is he a great fit in DeFilippo’s offense? I don’t know yet. But from the Vikings standpoint there’s a lot of available RB options that can play the role of Murray for less money.

      1. I have respect for the Vikings front office, I do, but they’ve been known to screw the pooch, too, from failing to adequately prepare for replacing Antoine Winfield to trusting that Matt Kalil would bounce back in 2014…no, 2015…nope, finally, 2016…uh, never mind. Frankly, I trust this front office in the draft more than I do in free agency; I can’t remember the last time Spielman had signed three good, solid free agents in one off-season like they did last year.

        1. Haha, I’m with you on the Winfield thing. He’s a great guy and was a very underrated football player, and the Vikings defensive backfield struggled mightily without him.

          Last year’s free agency was a home run. It would be wise of the team to copy the same formula they used to address FA’s last offseason.

          As long as the Vikings get their picks in on time I, for one, have fairly high confidence in their scouting and drafting abilities.

  6. whatever happens i hope they retain McKinnon My first thoughts were that if Cook can stay healthy then Murray is probably expendable but he was not expendable last year when Cook went down in wk-4 against the Lions! The lions have some really bad Kharma! Being the 10th RB is going to get you a job no matter what! Murray has an upside and so does McKinnon I dont think that the money needs to be a factor The factors should be the fact that both these guys are great rb’s and they will both get better given the opportunity if the team that has them knows how to use them! The way the Vikings used these 2 guys was what made them viable! And all that was because the starter rookie Cook which in his own right is a great rb so here we are with 3 RB’s and 3 QB’s what will happen is what the brain trust is trying to figure it out! Sometimes you just have to let things follow their course but the Vikings have to get this one right and i think they will! I know i want to see McKinnon back in purple he is a monster in that passing game!

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