For the next week or so, we’ll summarize everything that came out of the final Minnesota Vikings locker room sessions before the team disbanded for the offseason. We’re calling it our End of Season Series.
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Latavius Murray was brought in to help replace Adrian Peterson. Then Dalvin Cook got drafted in the second round, and everything changed.
Murray found a way to make an impact in his first Vikings season when Cook went down in Week 4 with an ACL tear and Murray went on to rush for 842 yards, but Cook’s mere presence on the roster took money out of Murray’s pocket the next offseason when he restructured his contract to void the final year of a three-year deal, thereby making him a free agent this coming March.
The former Raider got 140 carries this season, the lowest total since his rookie season, as Cook took the majority of snaps when healthy. Murray made six spot starts when Cook was rehabbing a hamstring injury, but his clear status as backup has him wondering about other opportunities, even though he likes the organizational culture in Minnesota.
“Even with Dalvin starting and things like that, I want everybody to know, make no mistake about it, I want to play. I want to start,” Murray said on Monday’s locker-clean-out day. “I’m not content with being in a backup role, but I want to compete and Dalvin knows that. We push each other. That’s what it’s about. But I would love to be back here for that opportunity to compete with and against them. That’s the only way you get better. As far as this team, this organization, this group of guys, this locker room, I love everything about it.”
There might have been more opportunities for Murray this past season if the Vikings had more been efficient rushing the football. Minnesota rushed it fewer than 25 times in 11 of its 16 games, leaving little chance for Murray to get in a rhythm when given playing time. In seven games, Murray got fewer than five carries.
Head coach Mike Zimmer frequently demanded the team run the ball more, but circumstance often left the Vikings no choice but to pass as they played from behind in numerous games. Murray finished the season with 578 yards, six touchdowns and 4.1 yards per carry.
Murray wished the team had done a better job establishing its offensive identity.
“Honestly, I think that’s kind of been the story of the season,” he said, “just not sure what [our identity] will be. Are we going to run the ball a lot? Do we have to pass a lot? Just the uncertainty, to be honest, with a lot of things. I’m not going to complain on playing time or anything like that. Obviously, I want to be in the game as much as possible, but I do my best to trust everything that we’re doing, that the coaches are working hard to try and put us in a position to win.”
Murray turns 29 this January. With undrafted rookie Mike Boone on the roster and practice squad back Roc Thomas returning on a futures deal, the Vikings have two cheap running backs that could compete for the backup job behind Cook. Murray’s next contract would likely fall in the range of Chris Ivory’s (two years, $5.5M at age 30) or Jonathan Stewart’s (two years, $6.8M at age 31).
The Vikings have valued Murray as a pass blocker, runner and veteran locker room presence, but even $3-4 million per year may be too high a price tag with Minnesota’s other offseason priorities.
“I think we’ve both mutually expressed our feelings about me returning,” Murray said. “Then I think we also understand the business side of it, so right now time will tell. They know how I feel about this organization. They know how I feel about the players in this locker room and the coaches. That’s what matters to me as long as they know that.”