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Eagles in tough spot with DeMarco Murray

THANKS TO a plodding schedule and the NFL's overinflated sense of importance, football divas provide the juiciest storylines in sports.

Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer

THANKS TO a plodding schedule and the NFL's overinflated sense of importance, football divas provide the juiciest storylines in sports.

The Eagles exiled their last one to Buffalo, the Siberia of the NFL . . . but, as it turns out, they replaced that diva with another.

Deliciously, their paths collide Sunday.

According to an ESPN report Tuesday, DeMarco Murray is so upset with his diminished workload that, on Sunday night, he complained to owner Jeffrey Lurie on the team plane back from New England.

If confirmed, this would be the second such complaint Murray leveled. The first time, he at least had the common sense to complain after a huge upset loss at Washington; not after a huge upset win at New England.

The Eagles did not confirm it Tuesday.

Murray did his best to avoid the media at least until his weekly press conference. As he scooted out the locker room he said, "See ya Thursday, baby."

Good idea, baby. Let it fester two more days, a petty distraction of national interest.

Wonder what LeSean McCoy will have to say about the issue when he speaks with the Philly press today?

Murray also is the most significant free agent the Eagles have signed in Chip Kelly's three NFL seasons: a Pro Bowl running back in the prime of his career, signed for five years and $40 million, $18 million guaranteed.

He has not been worth it. Blame it on injury, scheme or the offensive line, Murray is on pace for just 758 rushing yards, about 1,100 fewer than he gained in 2014 with the Cowboys. His 3.5 yards-per-carry average is the worst of his five seasons and is worst among NFL backs with at least 150 carries.

Murray can complain all he wants, but with just one 100-yard game and four rushing touchdowns, he won't get much sympathy from a city that worshiped Steve Van Buren and Wilbert Montgomery.

The solution?

Ignore him, for now. Maybe trade him later.

Cutting Murray before next season would be salary-cap suicide, since he would count $13 million against the cap.

However, Murray might be tradable, since he is guaranteed just $7 million in salary next season and $2 million in 2017. Would $9 million and a seventh-round pick be too much for a team to give for a player who freed Tony Romo and Dez Bryant in 2014? After all, it looks like Murray will be pretty fresh after 2015.

The Eagles would have to be willing to absorb a $4 million, the accelerated cap hit from Murray's $5 million signing bonus. They also would have to absorb criticism of Kelly's first big free-agency whiff. (Say what you want about big-money corner Byron Maxwell, at least he's still starting.)

Murray's arrival in Philadelphia was amplified because it followed the departure of McCoy, the Eagles' all-time leading rusher whose preening ways sped his trade to Buffalo for damaged linebacker Kiko Alonso. Surrounding hubris made the McCoy and Murray moves the most controversial of the offseason.

McCoy insinuated that he was part of a pattern of race-based personnel decisions by Kelly. Murray, meanwhile, found himself criticized by a former Cowboys teammate and a Cowboys legend for leaving "meat on the bone" — alarming, since Murray led the NFL in rushing by 25 percent in 2014.

On Sunday and Monday, Kelly blamed Murray's light usage on unfavorable matchups against the Patriots' large linebackers and a low snap count; a low something count, anyway.

Tuesday was offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's turn to duck and weave. Shurmur, who operates in Kelly's considerable shadow, is seldom transparent, but he clearly was prepared to evade definitive answers about Murray's role. He was asked 12 times about Murray; 12 times too many for what came forth.

"We have a group of running backs that we feel good about putting in the game all the time . . . He's actually had more snaps than the other three guys combined over the course of the season," Shurmur said.

Well, snaps do not equal carries, and the course of the season is not necessarily the issue.

"I don't know why it matters . . . it's not that big a deal to us who is in there right now," Shurmur said."

It matters to Murray.

Maybe he just wants to win and believes that using him more consistently, especially at the ends of games, will further that end.

Not only did Murray not start Sunday, he gained just 24 yards on eight carries. Scatback Darren Sproles got 15 carries for 66 yards, and anonymous Kenjon Barner gained 39 yards on nine carries — the last resulting in the fourth-quarter fumble that might have cost the Eagles the game.

It was a carry that Murray was hired to make; a carry that underscored his demotion much more clearly than Sproles' appearance on the first snap.

The Eagles, ahead by a touchdown, got the ball back with 2 minutes, 59 seconds to play. They needed to pound the ball and chew the clock, but Murray did not get a call.

Sproles carried three times for a total of 4 yards. Barner got 3 yards . . . but had the ball ripped from his hands, at the Patriots' 25. Tom Brady got the ball back with 1:02 to play.

It was a similar scenario to Washington, when Murray touched the ball once in the fourth quarter after the Eagles took the lead, which they failed to hold. He finished that game with eight carries for 36 yards . . . by far his BEST of the first three games.

Murray had run just 29 times in the first three games, all losses. He had run the ball at least 29 times in four single games in 2014 as the workhorse for the 12-4 Cowboys. He came to Philadelphia knowing he would share time, but he didn't think he would be benched; certainly, not at the ends of games.

The matter becomes murkier this week. Dynamic runner Ryan Mathews, out for the past three games with a concussion, expects to play.

Will Murray?