One thing that Bill O’Brien has proven over and over again as Texans general manager is that he has no idea what the market is for anybody. Randall Cobb got $18.5 million guaranteed to Danny Amendola’s $3 million. Carlos Hyde turned down a two-year, $10 million offer before a free agency session where Melvin Gordon signed for two years and $16 million. He always pays top dollar on every trade. It is very obvious that BOB’s read of the market is flawed in many, many ways.
And in that vein we’ve got the Eric Murray signing. Murray has played only a little over a full year’s worth of defensive snaps, at 1566 defensive snaps over four seasons in Kansas City and Cleveland. He’s also had knee injuries take portions of his 2019 and 2018 seasons. In 2019, Murray was traded by the Chiefs to the Browns for Emmanuel Ogbah, who had a much better injury-abbreviated year than Murray yet got paid less for it. Best I can tell, Murray’s guaranteed money has not been released yet. We only know that there’s $20.5 million in total compensation in his contract. That may not seem like a lot, but let me take a picture for you of the bottom of the NFL FA safety landscape:
That’s not the high-money deal on the list, it’s the high-money deal on the list by roughly $12 million. And some of those guys won’t give what Murray does on special teams, some of them are older and not BOB guys, etc. But it’s a ridiculous overread of a player’s market that has just become par for the course with O’Brien.
If you look at Murray’s last two years of coverage snaps, you see a player that can project as a third safety pretty easily, ala Jaleel Addae last season. The problem is that he’s a tweener. Almost all of his coverage snaps have come in the middle of the field — he’s done almost zero coverage outside of the slot. But on the few snaps I’ve seen of him trying to play tight man-coverage in that role, I didn’t really see a lot of competition:
(Yes, as several people pointed out to me, Keenan Allen is good. But that jab-out-and-inside-release isn’t exactly rocket science for most slot receivers.)
Now, I think he actually runs man pretty well from an elevated position on the field. He shows good awareness getting around his own men on attempted pick plays and screens, and he does the typical Texans zone cover read-and-react thing well, as you’d expect:
As far as him being a safety goes, I think he plays that a little awkwardly when he’s deep. I saw multiple plays where he wound up as the last guy to a side and let somebody get by him.
So what we’ve really got is a good special teams player who needs to be used within the first 20 yards of the line of scrimmage to be a solid lurk defender. Not elite speed, not going to be an impact run defender. He’s versatile but not in a way where he has multiple calling cards — he’s just solid all around.
Now, if a player like that stayed healthy, made some big plays for a good defense, you might see a bigger deal for a young player as a brand name sort of choice. But Murray hasn’t stayed healthy. His good has been accompanied by quite a bit of bad.
He’s solidly an NFL third safety, and I don’t think he’s in danger of playing his way out of Houston unless he suddenly winds up on the O’Brien Gestapo Bad Characters list, but I don’t see a lot of huge untapped upside here to move up in to a different role, and this contract pays him like he’s already there. (And overpays him for that, honestly, considering the Jeff Heath contract.)
If you’re trying to present an optimistic spin on this signing, I do think you can maybe portend that Anthony Weaver’s defense might be more interested in utilizing Murray’s short-field versatility than Romeo Crennel’s. I don’t necessarily know that this is a good thing because, as I said when they brought on Weaver, defenses that try to trick opponents with dropping players haven’t been NFL-successful in a hot minute. But it’s at least a step away from Crennel’s principles that were roundly found wanting without pass rush last year.
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