Exploring the Eagles Options with DeMarco Murray

With DeMarco Murray’s unhappiness with the Eagles being the big story Ive been getting a lot of questions about his contract and potential outs for the Eagles. Murray currently has an $8 million cap charge for 2016 and a $9 million cap charge for 2017. I’ll try to outline some of the scenarios here and what would happen on the cap.

Releasing Murray Before the End of 2015

This was a possibility raised by PFT today primarily because Murray would be exposed to waivers. In this situation a waiver claim would essentially be a trade for cash. The Eagles used this strategy (or at least in my mind it was a strategy assuming he still had termination pay rights) when they cut Jason Babin a few years back, but the money was very different in these cases. Babin back then had no future guarantees so a team claiming him would only be responsible for the $1.64M in remaining salary for the season. Murray has $9 million in future guarantees including a $7 million cap charge in 2016. There are also $3 million in injury guarantees.  So this would be an expensive proposition.

Making this move is also difficult for the Eagles. Despite the fact that we are beyond June 1, guaranteed salary does not accelerate into the 2016 season. It will all be accounted for in 2015. As of today the Eagles have just $8.5 million in cap space, meaning they would be about $1 million short of cap room if he went unclaimed. So not only does releasing Murray mean keeping your fingers crossed that he is claimed but it also means you need to find a way to prorate another $1.5 to $2 million from other  contracts into future years. Given that we are just 4 weeks removed from the end of the season and most base salary has already been paid that would mean a lot of maneuvering on the Eagles part. Realistically they would have to restructure the contracts of both Jason Peters and Connor Barwin to even come close. That just seems like a waste.

That being said would a team pick him up for the stretch run? In general teams know at this point if they are in the playoff hunt, so a good portion of the NFL would pass just because they are out. Off the top of my head I would just think the Colts, Texans, and Giants would be the only teams in the market. Given the level of uncertainty surrounding the Giants front office and to a lesser extent the Colts you can probably count them out. So I can’t picture a team claiming him at this stage of the season at the heavy future cost, unless they thought they could spin him in a trade next year. As the Eagles learned with Sam Bradford, playing that game is generally foolish.

The Eagles could sweeten the pot by prepaying some of Murray’s contract, which Ill discuss below, but that kind of flies in the face of hoping someone claims him on waivers. So Id consider his release in the next few weeks unlikely.

Cap Cost 2015: $9 million (added to current charge)

Cap Cost 2016: $4 million

Cap Cost 2017: $0

Trading Murray in 2016

Once this season is over the market should be more robust for Murray in the offseason when teams have a better idea of where they stand. 2014 is still fresh enough in someone’s mind where you can move him, it just needs to be at the right price as nobody else in the NFL wanted him at $8 million a year. The Eagles have no pending major salary cap issues nor does Murray earn anything by being in the roster in March and April so theoretically they can hold onto him until the draft and then see if they can find a team as the dust settles.

Trading Murray becomes much easier for Philadelphia if they bring his salary back in line with the traditional running back market, which is around $4-$5 million a season. For as bad as Murray has been this year we have seen players bounce back before and based on historical performances there should be one more 1,000 yard season in Murray. We have also seen players hit free agency off pretty bland years, such as CJ Spiller last season, and still hit that $4 million mark.

So how do the Eagles do this?  Murray has $15 million in compensation due to him in 2016 and 2017, of which $9 million is fully guaranteed and $12 million is guaranteed.  The Eagles need to eat somewhere between $4 and $6 million of the contract to facilitate the trade. They would do this by paying Murray, for example, a $5 million signing bonus the day before he is officially traded. The acquiring team would then take on the balance of the salary.

That $5 million would come off the guarantees that Murray is owed in 2016 and 2017. The salaries could be staggered however, but an easy way to do that would be for Murray to keep $3 million in guarantees for 2016 and $1 million in 2017. His cap charges under that scenario would be $3 million and $7 million for the acquiring team, an average of $5 million per year, just $4 million of which is guaranteed which is very reasonable. These terms would be negotiated by the Eagles and the team trading for him.

The Eagles goal should be $4 million as then the cost of the trade on their salary cap (4M in new payments plus $4M in old bonus proration) would equal the cost of keeping him on the roster ($8M cap charge).  That can probably be a reasonable negotiating point in any trade to minimize their costs.

There is also nothing that also prevents Murray from lowering his 2017 salary to make any numbers work to facilitate a trade. He has $5 million in guarantees that year so $3M of his salary is easy to make vanish in the form of high level performance incentives.  I’d consider this somewhat likely. Nobody will care about the 2018 and 2019 contract numbers since nobody expects him to still be playing on this contract at that point, so those can just be left as is or voided out completely. There are many ways to work this.

The Eagles would likely gain a conditional draft pick that would be based on playing time, performance, and possibly playoffs. I would think the max they can get is a 4, but that is just a guess. Either way paying Murray an extra $4 or $5 million sure beats paying him an extra $9 million which is the real benefit for Philadelphia

Of all the scenarios I think this is the one that works best.

The cap costs vary in any trade so projecting anything is kind of pointless, but here is what it projects like if they prepaid $5 million and traded before June 1.

Cap Cost 2016: $9 million

Cap Cost 2017: $0

Releasing Murray in 2016

The Eagles would lose $5 million in cap space by cutting Murray next year which is a very steep figure. Murray’s contract to the best of my knowledge does contain offsets so they would earn some of that money back, but any team that signs him at that point would just pay him the minimum salary since the Eagles are essentially eating the full cost.  So I would expect every trade explored before doing this. At best they would gain around $1.6M in returned money which would be realized on the cap in 2017.

If the Eagles did go this route I would expect them to use the June 1 designation to help with the salary cap costs. If they went the June 1 route they would only lose an additional $2 million in salary cap space on the year and they would only need to account for $8 million on the cap during the free agency period. To further help minimize 2016 cap costs they could rework Murray’s contract before releasing him and then declare him a June 1 cut. This would work the same as the restructure to help a trade happen except in this case it would simply be for cap help.

I don’t consider this out of the realm of possibilities if things are so bad that they don’t think they can find a way to use him on the field. It is better to have a distraction out of the locker room rather than in it.

Cap Cost 2016: $13 million/$10 million(Post June 1)

Cap Cost 2017: $0/$3 million (Post June 1)

Releasing Murray in 2017

If Murray remains an Eagle in 2016 they would still owe him $2 million guaranteed. This is not an obstacle as they have cut players in the past with small guarantees in the 3rd year of their contract. Another $3 million becomes fully guaranteed on the 5th day of the league year, so he would likely be released in early March rather quickly.

Cap Cost 2016: $8 million

Cap Cost 2017: $5 million