The news that Eagles running back DeMarco Murray took to owner Jeffrey Lurie a contention that coach/de facto G.M. Chip Kelly lied to Murray about the offense and his role in it surely has prompted coach/de facto G.M. Chip Kelly to explore his options with the 2014 NFL rushing champ.
Or maybe the options already were explored before the news became news. Unless the ESPN report of the Murray/Lurie charter-flight sit-down was leaked by a disinterested eavesdropper, someone had a reason for getting the story out.
At first blush, common sense would point to Murray, who in theory would leak the story in order to help justify a poor performance in 2015, or to simply take his frustrations with Kelly beyond the organization and to the public. (Indeed, the story from Ed Werder at one point specifically cites “a source close to Murray.”)
But the story cites “sources,” which means it may have initially come from the Eagles, with Werder merely confirming the item through a source close to Murray.
Kelly already has shown that he doesn’t operate a star system, with different treatment given to certain players based on contract value and/or jersey sales. Kelly will get rid of players who don’t buy in, and nothing says “I don’t buy in” more than going over Kelly’s head to the owner of the franchise during the fairly short flight home immediately after the biggest win of the season.
If Kelly is thinking about getting rid of Murray, Kelly and the Eagles need to consider the potential fan and media reaction. Many, for example, still believe that the Eagles leaked vague suspicions of gang ties regarding receiver DeSean Jackson to help justify abruptly cutting him in 2014. If the Eagles are thinking about dumping Murray, the Eagles benefit from leaking their reasoning in advance.
The move would carry financial and salary-cap consequences, which would give the critics more fodder in the absence of solid reasoning for dumping Murray. For starters, the Eagles would take a cap charge of $4 million in 2016, reflecting the balance of his $5 million signing bonus.
More importantly, the Eagles owe Murray a fully-guaranteed base salary of $7 million for 2016. The only way to avoid that payment would be to cut him now, and then to have someone claim his contract on waivers.
That’s where this one gets the most interesting. Would another team step into the shoes of the Murray deal? With $5 million in signing bonus, a $3 million roster bonus, and most of a $1 million base salary for 2015 already paid, does a $7 million commitment for the stretch run in 2015 plus all of 2016 justify the investment?
If no one claims the Murray contract on waivers, he’ll become a free agent — and the Eagles would be entitled to an offset of the $7 million based on whatever he makes next season.
Either way, the biggest downside to cutting Murray comes not from the financial side but from the risk that Murray will show up on the roster of a division rival, like the Giants or the Cowboys. For that reason, the Eagles possibly leaked the story simply to explain in advance a decision to put Murray on ice for the rest of the year, accepting the fact that he’ll be owed up to $7 million in 2016 but avoiding the possibility that cutting him would come back to haunt the team in 2015.