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Murray goes from 'Boys to men

Dallas couldn't make room for DeMarco Murray, but the Eagles are happy to sign the NFL's leading rusher.

DeMarco Murray greets members of a local Habitat for Humanity group that happened to be at the NovaCare Complex.
DeMarco Murray greets members of a local Habitat for Humanity group that happened to be at the NovaCare Complex.Read moreCHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

THANKS TO Twitter, by the time DeMarco Murray stepped in front of the cameras in the NovaCare auditorium last night, we knew that in Dallas, burning your No. 29 jersey in anger was a thing.

"I don't take it personally," said Murray, the NFL's 2014 leading rusher, who signed a 5-year free-agent deal with the Eagles worth a reported $42 million, $21 million of it guaranteed. "I'm sure their feelings are hurt. I apologize for that. But I'm ready to move on and be a part of this organization."

For once, the T.O. popcorn bag is on the other foot, or something like that.

Murray, 27, arrived in Philadelphia yesterday afternoon with family and agents in tow, and news helicopters charted his journey to NovaCare. A gaggle of fans gathered outside the practice-facility gates. This was a big deal, not just because the Eagles were signing a star player, but because they were signing a star player who'd worn a star on his helmet for four glittering seasons, something nobody could recall ever having happened before.

"Obviously, [the Cowboys] have a special place in my heart. I had an incredible 4 years there as a person, a man, a father, a husband and a football player," Murray said. "I can't thank the Joneses enough for taking a chance on me coming out of Oklahoma."

The Eagles didn't start free agency planning to tweak their most bitter rivals, Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. When the market opened, they figured Murray, 6-foot, 217, would be beyond their price range, though they knew they were trading LeSean McCoy to Buffalo and had to find a replacement. Kelly said the Birds thought the three best free-agent running backs were Murray, San Francisco's Frank Gore and San Diego's Ryan Mathews. They figured they'd need two backs to make up for McCoy's production.

They worked out a deal with Gore during the 3-day "legal tampering" period, but Gore ultimately decided he wanted to play with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. They made arrangements to bring in Mathews for a visit, and Wednesday morning, after a failed effort to change Gore's mind, Kelly called Murray, he said.

Turned out, the money wasn't that extravagant. Dallas wanted Murray back, but apparently wanted to go lighter on the guarantee, perhaps in view of Murray's workhorse 449 touches last season (392 carries, 57 catches). Oakland, where careers go to die, was involved, and might have been a team Murray alluded to last night that he said had offered more than the Eagles. Jacksonville kicked the tires.

If the Cowboys weren't going to ante up, Murray quickly decided, the best place to be would be Philadelphia, which had just traded for his college roommate, quarterback Sam Bradford.

Signing with the hated Eagles became a real possibility "as soon as I got the phone call," Murray said. "It definitely wasn't the biggest contract. But there was something about the organization and the team that caught my eye. I felt there was a great chance to win here. And that's what you want. You want to be in a place that has great fans. You want to be in a place that has a great coach and has a chance to win and be successful."

The Eagles ended up signing both Murray and Mathews, which might make for a really crowded backfield, given the continuing presence of Darren Sproles and restricted free agent Chris Polk. Kelly, of course, isn't worried about that. He pointed out the run-based nature of his offense, and he and Murray talked about how there would be less of a toll on his body.

"I felt like this 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 [a contract] that you deserve and something that was respectful . . . I was able to accomplish those two things."

He was saying he did not feel he could accomplish those things in Dallas, where owner Jerry Jones told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "We have great appreciation for his skills, and if there was no salary cap in place, DeMarco would be a Cowboy."

Kelly called Murray a "physical, downhill runner, really what in the zone scheme we're looking for - a downhill, one-cut runner. Both him and Ryan, I think, possess those qualities. When you have a physical, downhill runner, you'd better have two of them, because they're going to carry the ball but they're also going to take a lot of physical shots, so we want to be able to spread out the carries."

The guaranteed money was $5.5 million less than McCoy's new contract in Buffalo, but the stylistic difference probably was just as important. McCoy never made one cut when two or three might work better.

"You've got to run the football in this league. That's what I believe in. That's what I've always believed in," Kelly said.

"It's the same scheme, similar to what I played at Oklahoma," Murray said. "I love the spread. Love running from the gun. He's a smart coach; he's a smart guy."

Kelly gave Bradford credit for helping the Eagles land Murray, and Murray also mentioned the quarterback.

"Sam is a great friend of mine," Murray said. "He's like a brother to me. Roommates at Oklahoma. We played a lot of great games together in Norman. So it was a huge influence once I heard that he was getting traded here. He immediately texted me and said, 'Hey, jump on board. Let's go and win it.' I'm excited to be back with him."

Kelly seemed to indicate that the headline-grabbing part of free agency is over; we'll have a better idea of the cap situation when we see the actual terms of some of these contracts, but it would seem the room for big moves has been filled. Fans would say the Birds still need help at safety and wide receiver, at least, but those needs might have to be addressed in the draft.

It seems more and more likely that the Birds will actually have their high draft picks when their turns arrive, starting at 20th overall in the first round. Kelly skipped quarterback Marcus Mariota's pro day yesterday at Oregon - though QB coach Ryan Day was there, as Kelly said he will be at all QB pro days - and Kelly reiterated that he is philosophically opposed to mortgaging the future to move way up in the draft.

Of course, he again didn't say he wouldn't trade up a few spots to draft his former Ducks QB, or that he wouldn't take him if he were sitting there at 20.