NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the dust begins to settle on the Tennessee Titans' new-look coaching staff, attention now turns to pending offseason decisions.
One of the Titans' first big decisions will involve running back DeMarco Murray, who has spent the past two seasons as the team's lead back but faces an uncertain path to return for the 2018 season.
There's a decent chance Murray has played his last down in a Titans uniform, and the team's decision-makers will likely spend time over the next month examining Murray's future.
In 2016, Murray was the AFC's leading rusher (1,287 rushing yards on 4.4 yards per carry), bouncing back from a rough pit stop in Philadelphia in which he rushed for 702 yards in 2015. He was the face of the Titans' exotic smashmouth attack, but injuries and a lack of explosiveness defined Murray's poor 2017 season (659 rushing yards, 3.6 yards per carry). Those stats marked a career low for Murray in rushing yards and tied for a career low in yards per carry.
Former Titans head coach Mike Mularkey had a special affinity for Murray, often puzzlingly playing him over a more effective Derrick Henry last season. Mularkey is now gone, and new head coach Mike Vrabel has no close connections to Murray.
At age 30, Murray has shown some wear on his tires after seven NFL seasons.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson has been noncommittal on Murray's future in Tennessee, stating only that "he's under contract." Murray has two years remaining on a deal that Robinson renegotiated after acquiring him via trade from the Eagles in March 2016. Murray's contract is set to pay him $6.5 million in 2018 and $6.75 million in 2019, but the Titans could release him this offseason without taking on any dead money on their cap.
It seems unlikely Murray will come back under the same contract, and it could take a significant pay cut for Murray to return. That's not backup money that he's owed. The Titans are prepared to give Henry a more prominent role, and they could still seek out a more versatile, quick-twitch back to complement him via free agency, trade or the draft.
"We’ll have those discussions if they need to happen and go from there," Murray said about taking a pay cut, one day after the Titans' season ended with a loss to New England in the AFC divisional round.
Murray, who was the Titans' best pass-blocking and receiving back last season, laughed at the notion that his time as a starter was over. He said he "definitely" believes he can still be a highly productive feature back in the NFL, and he started all 31 games he played for the Titans over the past two seasons.
"I feel very confident in myself. Excited for the future. Excited for my future. I know what type of player I am," Murray said.
All of those signs point to Murray being in a different uniform in 2018.
But Murray has spent significant time in Nashville since Tennessee's season ended, rehabbing from the torn MCL he suffered in Week 16 and working out in the Titans' facility.
Injuries no doubt played a huge role in Murray's difficult 2017 season. He suffered from hamstring, shoulder and knee injuries throughout the season but only missed one regular-season game, often suiting up despite being far less than 100 percent healthy.
"(There were a) handful of games where I didn’t have anything. That’s part of the game. Injuries come and go," Murray said. "You got to do the best you can to play through them."
As the Titans transition from the Mularkey era to the Vrabel era, Murray's uncertain future will be one of the most important decisions the team faces.