The 2016 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Howie Roseman and new head coach Doug Pederson will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2015 roster. The team went 7-9 last season and improvement is clearly needed. By the time NFL free agency starts on March 9, the Eagles will have a good idea of which players they'll want to bring back for the 2016 season. Today we'll continue this offseason review series by looking at the running back position.
Numbers: 495 snaps, 193 attempts, 702 yards, 3.6 Y/A, 46.8 Y/G, 6 TD, 54 Long, 44 rec, 322 yards, 7.3 Y/R, 1 rec TD, 1024 yards from scrimmage, 7 total TD, 2 fumbles
Review: What a disaster. The Eagles signed Murray to a five-year, $40 million contract last offseason with $18 million guaranteed. He didn't come close to showing he was worth that money in 2015. The worst part is that the warning signs were there. Murray was coming off a HUGE workload in 2014 with the Cowboys. Too often did Murray look flat out slow last season. He looked cooked. Murray ranked 40th out of 44 rushers by Football Outsiders. He ranked 66th out of 68 by Pro Football Focus. He was sooooo bad.
It's true that the Eagles didn't have the best offensive line in 2015. Philly certainly didn't have the offensive line Dallas did in 2014. Still, other Eagles running backs were able to have more success behind the same blocking unit. It's not right to blame the shotgun for Murray's failures, either. Prior to Week 17, Murray was actually more productive running out of the gun (3.7 average) than he was under center (2.2 average).
There's one positive thing that can be said about Murray: he's still really good in short-yardage situations. He finished the season 17 for 17 on 3rd/4th-and-short. This isn't just a fluke. Murray has been really good at this throughout his career. He's a big back that runs hard. Paying a lot of money for a situational short-yardage back is far from ideal, but at least this is one way the Eagles can get some kind of value out of him.
Perhaps Murray will be better in 2016 now that he's not coming off an insane workload. It'll be hard for him to be much worse than in 2016. But maybe he's just cooked and will never return to form.
Numbers: 252 snaps, 107 attempts, 539 yards, 5.0 Y/A, 41.5 Y/G, 6 TD, 63 Long, 20 rec, 146 yards, 7.3 Y/R, 1 rec TD, 685 yards from scrimmage, 7 total TD, 3 fumbles
Review: Mathews was much more efficient than Murray. He should have played more snaps than Murray. The problem is that Mathews was hurt for a good part of the season due to a groin injury and a concussion. Mathews had surgery on his groin after the season ended. There's no doubt Mathews is a talented player, but his durability is not good. He's only played all 16 games once in his career. He also has a fumbling problem. He had three in 2015 despite playing limited snaps. Due to these issues, it's hard to rely on Mathews as a sole feature back.
Numbers: 405 snaps, 83 attempts, 317 yards, 3.8 Y/A, 19.8 Y/G, 3 TD, 27 Long, 55 rec, 388 yards, 7.1 Y/R, 1 rec TD, 705 yards from scrimmage, 4 total TD, 1 fumble
Review: The 32-year-old Sproles wasn't as productive in 2015 as he was in 2014. His yards per attempt went down by two whole yards and his yards per reception went down by 2.6. Sproles is still a dangerous on special teams. He led the NFL in punt return yards (446) and finished second in average yards per return (11.7). His two punts returned for touchdowns were the most in the league. As a result, he was named to the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row.
Numbers: 83 snaps, 28 attempts, 124 yards, 4.4 Y/A, 11.3 Y/G, 0 TD, 19 Long, 9 rec, 22 yards, 2.2 Y/R, 0 rec TD, 146 yards from scrimmage, 0 total TD, 1 fumble
Review: It's amazing how much more effective a guy like Barner looked than Murray at the end of the season. Barner probably deserved more playing time than he got. He's not a special talent but any means but he's been reasonably productive in limited snaps. He deserves a chance to earn some more time.
Who Could Leave
Despite Murray being terrible in 2015, the Eagles are probably stuck with him. The Eagles would not save cap space by cutting him. If the Eagles cut him, they'd be creating $13 million in dead money as opposed to keeping him around at his $8 million cap figure. The only way I can see Murray gone is if there's some really dumb and desperate team out there willing to trade for him. Could the Cowboys be that team? They had so much success with him in 2014 before being awful without him last season. Murray reportedly wants to play for the Cowboys again. Maybe Jerry Jones can rescue the Eagles from a terrible contract, but I wouldn't count on it happening.
Sproles is due $4.5 million and can be cut for a savings of $3.5 million. He's set to be a free agent after the 2016 season. Maybe the Eagles move on, but I'm thinking they won't. He's still the best punt returner in the NFL and he's very well-respected in the locker room.
Who Could Sign
The Eagles won't be signing any big name running backs in free agency since they're already locked in to the likes of Murray and Mathews. Maybe a depth guy, if anything.
Here's a thought: Will the Eagles utilize a fullback in Doug Pederson's offense? Andy Reid has always used one. If so, maybe the Eagles would look to sign a fullback.
NFL Draft Options
Running back could be a sneaky need for the Eagles. Murray might be shot. Mathews struggles to stay healthy. Picking up a young guy in the mid-to-late rounds and/or a priority unrestricted free agent could be a good idea.