INDIANAPOLIS — Rick Spielman lauded Latavius Murray’s impact in his first season as a Viking. First downs and touchdowns were gained more easily in short-yardage spots, Spielman said, in part because of the 6-foot-3-inch running back.
But at the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday, the Vikings general manager stopped just short of saying Murray will be in the fold next season behind Dalvin Cook.
“We’ve discussed a lot of things,” Spielman said when asked if the Vikings were set with Cook and Murray. “We’re very excited, Dalvin continues to rehab. I know he’s doing on-field stuff now with [athletic trainer Eric Sugarman]. We’re very excited about the progress he’s making and anxious to see what we are with him in the fold along with whatever combination is there.”
From Spielman’s glowing evaluation of Murray, the only logical hang up with his return would be his contract. A year ago, the Vikings signed Murray to a three-year, $15 million deal that was, in the reality of non-guaranteed NFL contracts, effectively a one-year, $4 million deal should the team choose to move on before March 16.
The March 16 deadline, three days into free agency, is when Murray’s $5.15 million base salary for 2018 becomes fully guaranteed.
That’s premiere money for a running back. Murray’s current salary cap hit of $6.35 million would be the fifth highest at his position next season, according to OverTheCap.com.
The Vikings could very well approach Murray’s representatives this week in Indianapolis about restructuring that contract, which has two years and about $11 million remaining (none guaranteed before March 16).
Murray ended up playing nearly 40 percent of the Vikings’ snaps last season while leading the offense with 842 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. The veteran stepped into a more prominent role after rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4.
“He stepped in and gave us, I think, the most explosive runs in our offense,” Spielman said. “I think there were 16 explosive runs. What he did in pass protection, how much he improved our goal-line situations, third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 situations, I think we were close to top in the league. I think that’s a combination of his ability and the improvement of the offensive line.”
Should Cook return healthy, Murray is again expected to play a complementary role. Spielman seemed to like the sound of both running backs in the fold for 2018.
“They’re two different styles of backs,” Spielman said. “And I think when you have the ability to have different types of backs on your roster, it also gives the defense more to game plan for. I think the coaching staff can be a little bit more creative on how they use those backs in certain situations.”