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?
Locked in 🔒
— Jerick Mckinnon (@JetMckinnon1) February 22, 2018
— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) February 23, 2018
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 Back||Latavius Murray||Jerick McKinnon||LeGarrette Blount|
|Weight||225 lbs.||205 lbs.||245 lbs.|
|Career Rushing Attempts||759||474||1,341|
|Career Rushing Yards||3,120||1,918||5,888|
|Career Rushing Touchdowns||28||7||51|
|Career Receiving Yards||742||984||387|
|Career Receiving Touchdowns||0||5||2|