IT WAS A THURSDAY, which meant it was time for us to crowd around DeMarco Murray's locker and listen to him address a story that should probably already be dead. As usual, the Eagles' running back did not say anything noteworthy, and, by "as usual," I mean that Murray has never said anything of remote consequence regarding his diminished role with the team that less than nine months ago decided that he was worth an elite-level free-agent contract.
I suppose this whole saga goes to show how easily we allow ourselves to get played in this business. What sense does it make for an athlete to be the bad guy when all it takes is one sentence from one anonymous tipster to one reporter and, three weeks later, we're still asking Chip Kelly how he might make his disgruntled running back happy? Just smile and say that all you care about is winning and we'll take it from there. Why say how you really feel when we'll say it for you?
That's not to suggest that Murray isn't frustrated that he has carried the ball a mere 19 times over the last two weeks while Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews have combined to carry it 35. He most definitely is, and anybody who thinks he couldn't have prevented ESPN from breaking that original report of his dissatisfaction isn't paying attention to sports reporting in the Internet age.
I wouldn't even suggest that the story's metastasization is a media creation. If you accept the premise that Murray could have prevented the story, then you are left with the conclusion that there is a reason he did not, and that sets us on a direct route to a fascinating destination, which is an offseason where both player and team conclude they are each better off without the other but with virtually no way to make that happen due to the contract that both sides entered into the previous offseason.
And that's where the whole thing can start to feel a bit Sisyphean because no matter how many times we ask either side about it, there really isn't a darn thing they can say or do that will make it go away. It will cost the Eagles $5 million more against the cap to cut Murray versus keeping him. As for a trade, he ended up here for a reason. Nobody was willing to pay what the Eagles agreed to pay.
The reality is that the best thing for Murray and the Eagles to do is accept the fact that they are going to be in each other's lives until at least 2017.
If Thursday was any indication, Murray understands this fact.
"It's different," he said as he stood at his locker wearing an Eagles baseball cap. "I've never been in this situation. But we're tied for first place in the division. I've been in this division four years - it's my fifth year - and it's always come down to every game in December, to the last game, so giving yourself a chance to win is giving yourself a chance to make the playoffs. It is what it is. Obviously, you always want to have a chance to contribute as much as you can in a game."
Then again, that isn't much different from the sentiments he's expressed - at least publicly - throughout this whole thing. The only thing that has changed is the situation, the Eagles as the favorite to win the division, a designation we all thought they'd permanently forfeited the right to claim. Maybe that's why it feels like this story should now be dead, because the Eagles have something significant they can achieve, and, regardless of what you read about the composition of their depth chart, their best chance at achieving it is with Murray in the fold. In 215 touches this year he has fumbled just once. He has caught 41 passes, 12 for first downs. And this, the most remarkable stat: all 15 of Murray's third-down carries have gone for first downs.
Just because Murray has not proven to be worth the money the Eagles will pay him doesn't mean he is not worth anything. And, keep in mind, there is a reason Kelly felt like he had to pay him. Perhaps his decision to win the bidding for Murray wasn't an indication that he overvalues the position as much as it was an indication that he understood the need to have at least one dependable player there. Once Frank Gore opted for the Colts, Kelly faced a possibility of entering a year with the oft-injured Ryan Mathews and a rotational player in Darren Sproles. I'm not sure what about that will change heading into next season.
Over the last three seasons, Murray has missed just three games. Kelly may have had a come-to-Jesus moment when Kenjon Barner fumbled the ball away to Tom Brady for one final drive. Those moments tend to happen when you see your life flash before your eyes.
"I've just got to keep grinding," Murray said Thursday. "Make as many plays as you can whenever you get the opportunity and go from there."
Perhaps, then, we can consider the matter settled. At least for another six days.