From the time he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Latavius Murray has captivated Raiders fans. At 6'3", 230 pounds and running a 4.38 40-yard dash, the man they call "Tay Train" is a physical freak. He is also coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he rushed for over 1,000 yards. This year he has looked even more impressive, running with physicality and trucking defenders.
Murray sat the last two games with an injury and Derek Carr will be the first person to stress how much the offense misses him. With Murray during the first three games, the Raiders rushed 76 times fpr 445 yards. The past three games (two without Murray), the rushing attack has been held to just 216 yards on 61 attempts. Common sense would indicate the Raiders should absolutely resign their starting running back this offseason when his contract is expires. But history shows the smarter move would be to let "Tay Train" choo choo his way out of Oakland.
Latavius Murray is currently signed under a rookie contract worth $2.6 million over four years. At this rate, he is an extremely great value for the Silver and Black. But that contract expires this offseason and his price will skyrocket due to the increase in market value and his solid production. According to Spotrac which compared his stats to current running backs in the NFL and the contracts they signed, Murray's estimated value in the 2017 offseason will be four years for $12.4 million. That number would place him as the 16th highest paid running back in the NFL and it could easily increase when the salary cap raises in the offseason.
With the resigning's of Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson, and Amari Cooper on the rise, the Silver and Black would be wise to look for cheaper options. And what is a better way to save money than the NFL Draft?
The contracts rookies receiver are based on the pick number they were selected. If we estimate the Raiders will draft somewhere between 23-32 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, we can estimate the contract a running back would receive based on the round they were selected according to Spotrac. As a reference, I will be using the contracts handed out for the 25th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft which belonged to the Steelers.
Round 1: 4 years, $9.5 million
Round 2: 4 years, $4.0 million
Round 3: 4 years, $3.1 million
Round 4: 4 years, $2.8 million
Round 5: 4 years, $2.5 million
Round 6: 4 years, $2.4 million
Round 7: 4 years, $2.4 million
Even if the Raiders were to take an extremely talented running back such as Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey in the first round, they would still be saving $3 million and may very well be ending up with an upgrade over Murray. But another reason why the Raiders should avoid re-signing Murray is because the 2017 NFL Draft offers more talent at the running back position than we have seen in years.
Talented 2017 running back class
If the underclassmen projected to enter the 2017 NFL Draft do, there will be at least five running backs in this draft with first round talent: Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Royce Freeman, and Nick Chubb. What is even crazier about that statement is there isn't a huge gap in talent from Fournette to Chubb, all five are elite prospects. But due to the undervaluing of the position, there is no way all five will be drafted in the first round. It is more likely that 2-3 will hear their name called on the first day based on the past couple of years.
What this means is that some of those top tier running backs will fall to the second round which will push second round talents downwards, which will push third round talents down. As a result, there should be incredible value at the running back position from the second round to the end of the draft.
Running backs short shelf life
Running Backs in the NFL have an average career length of just 2.57 years which is the shortest of any position. While there are always exceptions to the rule (Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore), they are outiers from the majority of halfbacks in the NFL. A closer look the production of running backs in comparison to their age suggests that running backs hit their peak in their second and third NFL seasons. After that, there is a sharp drop-off which plateaus until year seven when there is another drop in production.
Latavius Murray is a solid starting running back, but he is no means an Adrian Peterson and it is highly unlikely he will last 4-5 more years in the NFL. And even if he does, chances are that his production would dip while his price increased from what the Raiders are currently paying him.
Drafting a younger player at the position with less wear and tear would increase the chances of the Raiders investment to last longer and they would also be acquiring that players best years while paying them a rookie contract that bodes favorably to the salary cap.
Raiders have depth at running back
While there is no question the absence of Latavius Murray has had a negative effect on the ground game, part of the blame is also due to mistakes and injuries on the offensive line. Both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have shown the ability to break long runs with their explosiveness and they also contribute in the passing game.
But while both rookies are great rotational pieces, through two games without Murray it doesn't appear just the two of them can lead the Raiders rushing attack. That being said, both Washington and Richard provide great depth and the Raiders wouldn't be completely desperate for a running back without Murray.
Latavius Murray has returned great value on the Raiders inexpensive investment as a sixth round draft pick. He plays an important role on the Silver and Black's offense, but also a role that can be upgraded or sustained for much less money than it it would cost to bring Murray back. The Raiders will let the "Tay Train" punish defenders standing in its way, but the team should also be prepared to let it continue rumbling its way out of Oakland at the end of the season.