The Tennessee Titans have parted ways with veteran running back DeMarco Murray after a brief two-year stint, but that was all the time he needed to make a lasting impression on the franchise.
Prior to his arrival in the spring of 2016, the Tennessee Titans had a two-fold problem. One, they were not very good to put it mildly…winning just five of their last 32 regular season games.
Secondly, they had no bankable stars on offense to compliment their young franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota. In fact, one could argue that Mariota had more talent around him at Oregon than in his rookie season with the Titans in 2015.
Losing with no-name players? That’s a recipe for an empty Nissan Stadium on Sunday afternoons, which was often the case in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Many credit general manager Jon Robinson for the team’s quick turnaround after being hired in January 2016, and rightfully so. His first draft at the helm netted two All Pros in right tackle Jack Conklin and safety Kevin Byard.
But his first transaction as GM laid the foundation for the team that pulled off one of the greatest comeback playoff victories in NFL history a few months ago.
On the first day of free agency in March 2016, the Titans announced a trade that brought Murray to Tennessee in exchange for a swap in fourth round picks with the Philadelphia Eagles. A small investment for the 2014 NFL rushing leader and Offensive Player of the Year.
For the first time in years the Titans had a potent offensive weapon with playoff experience and a name-cache’ that would resonate with even the casual Titans fans.
With little help surrounding him at the skill positions, the Titans made the wise decision of building the offense around Murray….ushering in the exotic smash mouth era.
In his preseason home debut, Murray took a simple handoff up the middle, bounced to the outside, and streaked up the sideline for a 75 yard touchdown.
The rest, as the old cliché goes, was history.
Behind a retooled offensive line, Murray led the AFC in rushing in 2016…earning Pro Bowl honors. He was also the driving force behind the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history. The Titans posted a 9-7 record, a six-game improvement over 2015’s 3-13 campaign.
Tennessee narrowly missed the playoffs, but more importantly, the stench of the Ken Whisenhunt era was gone…and the fans were back on board.
So was the national media, who touted the Titans as a playoff favorite entering the 2017 season. Thanks in large part to Murray’s heroics.
And even though the Titans ultimately made good on the national media’s playoff prediction last season, the manner in which it happened showed another side of Murray…
In 2016 the Titans also drafted Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winning battering ram, Derrick Henry, in the second round. And we all know that players drafted that high are not brought in to hold clipboards.
Murray knew that too.
He was able to keep the rookie at bay with his play in 2016, but a multitude of injuries derailed his 2017 season…one of the worst of his career.
Henry, to his credit, took advantage of his opportunities throughout the season. And when the playoffs came around an injured Murray, in street clothes, stood idly by as Henry’s monster day spelled the end of his tenure in Nashville.
These types of situations can and have turned ugly for teams in the past, and in a season already filled with it’s share of controversy (offensive woes, underperforming, bad coaching, anthem protests) Murray’s decreasing stranglehold of the starting job was not one of them.
And for that, a tip of the cap to DeMarco.
Murray didn’t make excuses for his decline. He didn’t blame his offensive line (a la Chris Johnson at the end of his tenure in Tennessee), and he didn’t bad mouth his predecessor, even when questions about Henry coupled with questions about his decline mounted at the season progressed.
That’s being a consummate professional and locker room leader. He could have taken the low road and potentially caused a rift among his teammates.
No one knows for sure what’s next for Murray, although I would guess that he feels that he still has gas left in his tank.
But for his brief stint in Tennessee, he deserves a heartfelt thank you for spearheading the turnaround and raised expectations of a franchise in danger of losing its fan base prior to his arrival.
Thank you, Demarco Murray….good luck to you in the future. ~ Titans fans