The Eagles needed a replacement at running back after the LeSean McCoy trade last week, and it wasn't until Chip Kelly called DeMarco Murray on Wednesday morning that it became a possibility: The reigning NFL rushing champion would leave the rival Dallas Cowboys for Philadelphia.
At the start of free agency, Kelly did not think Murray would be within the Eagles' price range. But that conversation sparked an aggressive 24-hour push that made Murray the Eagles' next running back.
Murray touched down in Philadelphia at 3:08 p.m. Thursday. Helicopters followed his four-mile drive to the team's training facility. Four hours later, he finalized a five-year deal. The contract will pay him base salaries totaling $40 million with a maximum value of $42 million, including $20 million guaranteed (and $18 million fully guaranteed), according to a league source.
"It 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 you deserve and is respectful . . . and I was able to accomplish that. . . .
"It definitely wasn't the biggest contract [offered], but there was something about this organization and this team that caught my eye, and I felt there was a great chance to win here."
With Murray's commitment, the Eagles weakened the NFC East champion Cowboys and added the 2014 offensive player of the year, who becomes the first rushing champion to change teams the next season since 1947.
If that wasn't enough, the Eagles also signed former Pro Bowler Ryan Mathews to a three-year deal that will pay him $11.5 million and $5 million guaranteed, according to a league source.
"We already had money [allotted at running back] - it's the same situation," Kelly said. "We just got two players."
Murray, 27, was one of the league's top free agents. In addition to 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season, Murray impressed Kelly up close with a running style that the coach seeks for the Eagles.
"Physical, downhill runner," Kelly said. "Really what we're looking for in a zone scheme - one-cut, downhill runner. . . .
"When you have a physical, downhill runner, you better have two of them. Because they're going to carry the ball, but they're also going to take some shots. We want to be able to spread out the carries."
And that explains the team's pursuit of Mathews, which went back to when the team thought it would be able to sign Frank Gore over the weekend. Mathews, 27, is an injury-prone rusher who has impressed when he is healthy. He has twice topped 1,000 yards but has played all 16 games in a season only once.
Mathews said being the featured running back with the Eagles was "never brought up," and Kelly insisted Mathews was kept abreast on being paired with Murray.
"I had an idea, and it didn't turn me off at all," Mathews said. ". . . To play with a guy like that, it'd be great. I wouldn't shy away from it at all."
Mathews' presence also could help alleviate some of the workload concerns about his new teammate. Murray carried the ball 392 times last season - 80 more carries than the next highest NFL running back, McCoy. No running back has had that many carries since Larry Johnson rushed 416 times in 2006. Johnson never played another 16-game season.
"I don't think we have to give that running back that many carries," Kelly said. "Part of what we have to do running the ball is distribute those carries."
Kelly said Darren Sproles and Chris Polk are still in the Eagles' plans. The Eagles kept three running backs last season, but they can maneuver the roster to carry four in 2015.
In conversations with Murray, Kelly spoke to him about the Eagles' sports science program. Mathews also mentioned it as part of the team's lure. The team is hoping to use the program to help keep the players fresh and avoid the decline that often strikes running backs around their age.
"I would hope DeMarco's here for a long time," Kelly said. "I hope we get the opportunity to sign him to a third contract."
Murray said he understood the business side of the game and said there were "no hard feelings" that the Cowboys could not outbid the Eagles.
"We have great appreciation for his skills, and if there was no salary cap in place, DeMarco would be a Cowboy," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. "This came down to an allocation of dollars within the management of the salary cap."
The Eagles have allocated a significant chunk of money to the position, with up to $25 million in guaranteed money handed out Thursday. McCoy had only $1 million guaranteed in 2015, but he would have counted $11.95 million against the cap.
Kelly reasoned that the Eagles were already heavily invested at running back with McCoy. Murray and Mathews now consume space at a position that already would have had a high cap hold in 2015, and they also added linebacker Kiko Alonso in the trade.
"We picked up Kiko and money," Kelly said. "What did we do with the money? . . . We just didn't give one player that lump sum. And that's why we [traded] LeSean."