The Philadelphia Eagles unprecedented free-agent frenzy continued Thursday when the organization reeled in former Dallas Cowboy DeMarco Murray and former San Diego Charger Ryan Mathews.
Below are some takeaways regarding the significance of both signings as reported on by Eagles writers Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf following a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Mathews Knew What He Was Getting Into
Chip Kelly explained during his press conference that the team’s plan all along had been to acquire multiple running backs in order to replace the departed production of LeSean McCoy. It was a plan that was made clear to all of the involved parties, including Ryan Mathews, who said he was attracted to the possibility of joining a potentially special backfield.
“I had a little bit of an idea,” said Mathews, who called the Eagles’ offense a running back’s dream. “It didn’t deter me at all. They have a good group here and I was really excited to be able to come here and check it out.
“I was just more about the team. I wanted to come play for the team. I just really bought into Chip’s system and when I got here and really got to watch it, watch some plays and talk to (running backs coach Duce Staley), it was awesome.”
In addition to joining forces with Murray, Mathews will also reunite with his former teammate Darren Sproles.
“I played with Sprolesy my rookie year in San Diego, so I know him a little bit,” Mathews said. “I’m excited to get back with him. But it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be downhill football and it’s going to be awesome.” One of the bugaboos of Mathews’ career thus far has been the occasional stint on the sidelines because of injury. In five seasons, Mathews has only played 16 games once and at least 14 games twice. Most of that, he said, is the nature of the position.
“I’ve had seriously bad luck, but it is what it is and it’s just part of the game,” said Mathews. “It’s football, it’s not flag football. It’s not anything else. It’s a contact sport, so it just has to go with luck. But like I said, my future starts now.”
Mathews also knows that in Philadelphia, where he’ll rotate in a deep backfield and have the benefit of the team’s sports science program, he’ll have a good chance to stay on the field.
On the flip side, the Eagles themselves will do everything they can to keep Mathews on the field.
“I think their plan the whole time was to have me here too,” Mathews said. “I knew that they wanted me as one of their backs.
“Just how coach Chip likes to run the ball. He likes to run the ball. He uses his running backs a lot and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here, I wanted to be used like that. It’s going to be fun. I think it’s going to be able to showcase my talents a little bit more.”
Murray: No Negative Effects From Nearly 500 Touches
Running back DeMarco Murray truly earned the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2014. Murray had 392 carries, which tied for the seventh most in NFL history, as he gained a Cowboys franchise-record 1,845 yards. Add in 57 receptions and Murray had 449 touches in just the regular season.
Murray played two playoff games and had 48 more touches. That’s 497 touches for the entire season. Against Chicago in December, Murray had 41 touches, the most by any player in a game this season and just seven away from tying the highest total in NFL history.
How will Murray combat the potential of any lingering effects from the arduous workload? With a combination of the Eagles’ sports science program, hard work and relying on the strong depth on the roster.
“I feel great. I take care of my body. I work extremely hard. I know we have Darren Sproles here. We just signed Ryan Mathews. I know those guys. If I ever need a little break, they can handle the load so I’m excited to work with those guys and it’s going to be a bright future,” Murray said.
“I think I just need to continue to work hard, just kind of build my craft. Start back from ground zero, work on the small things and make sure that I’m physically and mentally ready to do whatever they ask me to do, so I’m excited about the future and I’m definitely not worried about that.”
Chip Kelly indicated that he doesn’t want Murray to shoulder as much of the load as he did last year in Dallas. Signing one of the premier free agents was a boost to the Eagles’ roster. Prying him away from the Dallas Cowboys? Well, that’s something that will make the two matchups that much more enticing later this year.
Why exactly did the Cowboys allow a division rival sign away the player who just set a franchise record for rushing yards, who gained more ground yards than any player in the league last season and was a vital component to Dallas’ playoff run?
For Murray, it came down to a chance to win a Super Bowl … and respect.
“I felt this was a great opportunity for me to win a Super Bowl at the end of the day,” Murray said. “It wasn’t about financial security or anything like that. Obviously, you want something that you deserve and something that is respectful. I felt that those two things were important to me and I was able to accomplish that here.”
While Cowboys fans poured fuel on DeMarco Murray jerseys, Murray took the high road when asked if the chance to play his former team twice a year played a role in joining the Eagles.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys there. I approach every game the same. There’s not one game I look more forward to than the other. I go out there every Sunday and try to put my heart out there and play my hardest so I’m sure the emotions will be a little high during those games, but I’m excited to get here and just start working out and get better with this team,” he said.
“I understand the business side of it. Like I said, even before all of the negotiations were going on, there’s no hard feelings. Those are great people in that organization. I’m very, very blessed. I spent four years there. I learned a lot from those guys. Some things don’t work out and you’ve just got to move on.”
Darren Sproles Isn’t Going Anywhere
Despite the additions of Murray and Mathews, head coach Chip Kelly made it very clear that Darren Sproles – fresh off his first Pro Bowl appearance – is very much a part of the Eagles’ 2015 plans.
“Darren is a Swiss Army knife and you can use him in a million different ways,” Kelly said. “He’s an integral part of what we’re doing here.”
For that matter, Kelly said running back Chris Polk, a restricted free agent who received a right of first refusal tender by the Eagles, is an important player to the team as well.
“You have to have as many good players as you can,” Kelly said. “You have to be able to fit them in. Last year, we were in a situation where we kept four tight ends but we only kept three running backs. We could go the other way, we could keep four running backs and three tight ends. There are a lot of things when you get to those final cuts, when you get to September, you have no idea. Someone may be injured, you may not have to make any decisions.
“We’re never going to give up good football players. Chris is an outstanding football player, a really integral part of what we’ve done here the last two years.”