The Tennessee Titans made a long-speculated move official on Thursday, releasing running back DeMarco Murray from the final two years of his contract.
Murray’s release saves the Titans $6.50 million in cap space for this season and next, firmly planting Derrick Henry as the lead back in Tennessee’s stable.
“I want to thank DeMarco for his contributions as a Titan, not only for what he did on the field but also in the locker room and in the community,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson said in a written release by the team. “He was a pro in every facet and we wish him and his family the best moving forward.”
Murray was a large part of the Titans return to respectability in 2016, finished with 1,287 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry. He added 53 receptions for 377 yards and three touchdowns in the passing game as well as the bellcow for one of the league’s top rushing attacks.
Murray’s effectiveness, much like the Titans’ offense in general, dipped last season, as he rushed for just 659 yards and six touchdowns on 373 touches, dropping his YPC to 3.6. According to Pro Football Focus, Murray graded out average at 71.2, though he did great out poorly rushing (58.3) and receiving (49.7).
Much of his fall in production can be attributed to the seventh-year running back dealing with shoulder and knee issues last season. Ultimately, Murray, who tore his MCL against the St. Louis Rams in late December, didn’t see a snap in the regular season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars or in either playoff games against the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.
Turning to Henry, the Titans will be looking at the third-year running back to handle much of the early-down work in the offense. He graded out at a respectable 79.3 last season but struggled as a receiver. Henry finished last season with a team-high 744 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 176 carries.
Henry went a long way in proving his worth to Titans fans last season, particularly in the opening round of the playoffs against the Chiefs when he rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. Henry saw just 12 touches in the loss to the Patriots, in large part to the Titans falling into a big hole early in the game.
With the release of Murray, look for the Titans to add to the backfield in free agency or during the draft to give the team some depth at the position.
Notable pass-catching running backs available in free agency that should interest the Titans are Jerick McKinnon (Minnesota Vikings) and Dion Lewis (Patriots). McKinnon had his best season as a pro for Minnesota last season. He averaged 3.8 rushing yards per attempt on the way to 570 yards and three touchdowns on 150 carries. He added 51 receptions for 421 yards and additional two scores through the air, averaging 8.3 yards per catch. McKinnon graded out (84.6, 79.9 run/82.4 receiving) as the Vikings’ top running back last season, according to PFF. The Vikings have second-year running back Dalvin Cook returning from a knee injury that cut his rookie season short, which may put Minnesota in a position to let McKinnon walk.
Lewis is also coming off a career year for the Patriots, as he rushed for 896 yards (5.0 YPC) and six touchdowns, playing in all 16 games with eight starts. A two-way back, Lewis caught 32 passes for 2.14 yards and three scores, averaging 6.7 yards per reception. Lewis finished the season with an 87.2 overall grade (85.4 run/77.0 receiving) and had a 78.9 grade while pass blocking. The Patriots have Mike Gillislee (power back) and James White (third-down back) under contract and will also see Rex Burkhead test free agency.
Running backs to watch for as the draft approaches include Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, USC’s Ronald Jones II, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and NC State’s Jaylen Samuels.