The New Orleans Saints lost popular and productive veteran running back Mark Ingram to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency two years ago. New Orleans still had the dynamic Alvin Kamara, who they were moving forward with as the featured back. However, head coach Sean Payton has always used multiple backs for his offense, and Kamara's versatile abilities can best threaten defenses when he’s used around the offensive formation.
New Orleans would ultimately sign veteran RB Latavius Murray away from the Minnesota Vikings during the 2019 offseason to replace Ingram. Murray had one 1,000-Yd season and rushed for 20 touchdowns in three years with Oakland to begin his career. He had been productive for the previous two seasons with Minnesota in a shared role with Dalvin Cook before joining the Saints, averaging over 700 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns.
Murray was productive in his first year with New Orleans, rushing for 637 yards and five touchdowns while catching 34 passes for 235 yards and a score. He kept the team's rushing attack effective even when Kamara was slowed by multiple injuries. Murray had back-to-back 100-Yd outings when Kamara was sidelined at mid-season, the only 100-Yd rushing performances by the Saints in 2019.
Entering the 2020 season, Murray teamed with Kamara to give the Saints one of the league's best tandems of running backs. He is the subject of today's Year-in-Review spotlight.
The New Orleans rushing attack was bottled up by the Buccaneers in the season opener, but Murray was the team's leading rusher in the win with 48 yards on 15 attempts. He had little impact in a Week 2 loss to the Raiders, picking up 33 yards on just five touches. Murray was more involved in the offense the next two weeks, sharing carries with Kamara and rushing for 122 yards against the Packers and Lions, scoring two touchdowns in a victory over Detroit.
Murray continued to be used as a complement to Kamara, with his rugged running between the tackles and underrated open field ability. His best game of the year was at Denver in Week 12, when he rushed for 124 yards and 2 scores in a rout of the Broncos. It was one of just three 100-Yd rushing performances by a New Orleans back this season.
Kamara, Murray, and Taysom Hill gave the Saints the best three-headed rushing attack in the league, allowing the team to average over 141 yards per game on the ground, sixth best in the NFL. Their running game pounded the Vikings with 264 yards rushing in a Christmas Day home win, with Murray contributing 72 rushing yards.
Murray and Kamara, along with backup Dwayne Washington and fullback Michael Burton, would miss the season finale at Carolina because of COVID-19 protocols, but all would return for the Wild Card Round against Chicago.
Murray rushed for just 9 yards against the Bears but caught a key 3rd quarter touchdown when he broke several tackles to get into the end zone. Unfortunately, he was injured during the game and would miss the following week's Divisional Playoff loss to the Buccaneers.
Murray rushed for 656 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2020, averaging 4.5 per carry, and added 23 receptions for 174 yards and a score. He is under contract for the next two years but will count $4.2 million against the salary cap this season. Releasing or trading Murray after June 1 would save the team over $3.3 million of cap space while creating just $850k of dead cap over the next two years.
The Saints have always had success finding productive running backs. Murray's hard running style and underrated contributions have been a big part of the New Orleans success over the last two seasons, making it possible that the team will restructure his existing deal.