Reports of Trent Murphy’s demise with the Buffalo Bills probably are wildly premature and off base.
Murphy currently has the fourth highest cap hit on the team – at $9.77 million – and he’s obviously not close to being the fourth most valuable player on the team.
Coupled with the fact the Bills just added one and a half defensive ends in free agency (Quinton Jefferson qualifies as part defensive tackle, part defensive end), that has prompted a lot of speculation among fans that he’s on the chopping block.
Furthermore, he’s due to receive a $500,000 bonus on the fifth day of the league year, which is Sunday.
However, there are a lot more reasons to keep Murphy than to let him go.
Salary cap space is not much of an issue for the Bills this year. They still had $32 million in cap space for 2020, which ranked 13th most in the NFL, according to Spotrac.com.
And while Murphy is not a fan favorite because of his lack of sacks over the past two seasons, he remains a capable defensive end.
Consider the fact the Bills played Murphy on 64.5% of the defensive snaps, second only to Jerry Hughes among Bills defensive linemen (if you discount the regular-season finale). Shaq Lawson, who shared the left defensive end spot with Murphy, played 49% of the snaps over the first 15 regular-season games.
Who did the coaches trust and want on the field more last season – Murphy or Lawson? The answer is clear: Murphy. There was nothing keeping Leslie Frazier from putting Lawson ahead of Murphy on the depth chart.
Murphy is good at setting the edge against the run. He is extremely assignment sound. He’s an effort pass rusher, not a speed rusher. He had five sacks last season and didn’t mount enough pressure, which is why Lawson replaced him on many passing downs.
It’s also obviously why the Bills lured edge rusher Mario Addison from Carolina in free agency.
Jefferson, signed from Seattle, is most effective rushing from an inside position, but he can rush outside and is sure to get snaps at end for the Bills.
So keeping Murphy isn’t a necessity. But why get rid of a capable veteran when money isn’t an issue?
Addison is going to be 33. He likely will be most effective if he’s kept fresh and plays less than 60% of the snaps.
Hughes is going to be 32 in August. What if he or Addison get hurt for a month – or longer?
Why not keep outstanding depth on the defensive line?
Furthermore, the roster numbers are less of an issue than people think.
The Bills currently have nine defensive linemen on the roster who spent all of last season on a 53-man roster.
The Bills are going to keep four defensive tackles. The top four on the roster look set: Ed Oliver, Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips and Vernon Butler.
The five defensive ends are: Hughes, Addison, Murphy, Jefferson and second-year man Darryl Johnson, a young, developing player with upside who you have to think is targeted to make the team.
The Bills kept eight defensive linemen to start last season, eight to start 2018 and nine to start 2017.
However, half of the teams in the NFL keep nine or more defensive linemen on the 53-man roster each year. Carolina kept nine to start each of the past five seasons. New Bills defensive line coach Eric Washington just came from Carolina. This isn’t to suggest a position coach will hold sway over Sean McDermott on roster numbers. The point is: Nine is not too many for a 4-3 defense. It’s more the norm.
Another factor is the Bills’ coveted culture. Murphy is the ultimate team player, hard worker and leader by example.
If the young Johnson shows up in training camp and makes a great leap forward, that would be a development that might make Murphy more expendable. But it’s a stretch to think he will be as good an edge-setting run defender as Murphy this year.