Six months ago, the business side of being an NFL running back reached out and horse-collared Latavius Murray.
“You know when it’s coming,” said the Vikings’ leading rusher the past two seasons. “There’s going to be a point in time when you know they’re going to come to you to do a restructure. You can’t be surprised by it.”
Especially at running back. Dallas showed DeMarco Murray the door two months after he led the league with 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014.
Latavius Murray is 28. And, technically, he’s a backup, even though Sunday’s game against the Jets at MetLife Stadium will mark his 17th start in 25 games since the Vikings made Dalvin Cook their top draft pick in 2016. Cook will miss his fourth game of the season because of a hamstring injury.
“I don’t worry whether Dalvin is up or down on game day,” said Murray, who’s coming off a career-high 155 yards rushing in last week’s win over Arizona. “When they say, ‘Latavius, go in the game.’ I go in the game and do the best I can.
“I know how the business side goes. I got a taste of that this offseason. It’s tough because you want to make sure you’re doing all you can financially to solidify your worth. But from a team and winning point of view, it was an easy decision to restructure because I believe in this team and what we can do together.”
The Vikings’ front office impressed its peers by juggling the salary cap to re-sign star players while adding $84 million quarterback Kirk Cousins. Murray’s original deal with the team two years ago was one of the casualties of that process.
Murray accepted a $1.75 million pay cut. He’s making $4 million and most likely will be allowed to enter free agency after the season.
On the field, however, the Vikings are leaning on Murray’s size, durability and sneaky burst as they try to breathe life into what was a listless running attack before meeting the Cardinals’ 31st-ranked run defense last week.
Murray’s 155 yards, which included four runs longer than 20, were the most since Adrian Peterson ran for 158 back in 2015. And the team’s 195 yards rushing were the most in 41 games going back to a 218-yard outing against the Giants in 2015.
Impressed? Murray’s not.
“We just so happened to play a team whose M.O. was giving up rushing yards,” he said. “We have to do this against any team we play.”
Friends in high places
Murray is equally busy off the field.
If you bump into him between 2 and 3 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, he’ll be sleepy-eyed but proudly feeding his son, Major, born on Sept. 4. His fiancée, Shauntay Skanes, an enlisted member of the U.S. Navy, has another young child, 3-year-old daughter Jayde, whom Murray adores and will no doubt make a part of his and Shauntay’s wedding next March.
Then there’s Murray’s ongoing desire to not let the NFL define him the rest of his life. He’s a year away from completing his MBA through an online program at Syracuse. This past offseason, he spent a week in Italy and another week in Ireland knocking out two of the four residency requirements he needs to complete his MBA.
Asked for someone to talk to in this circle of his life, Murray mentions a man named Bob Garvy via text with no other details.
Garvy answers the phone. The person on the other end is unaware that Bob Garvy is vice chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Central Florida. Or that he’s also founder and chairman emeritus of INTECH Investment Management LLC.
“I started the company with a professor of mathematics at Princeton University in 1987,” he said. “We built it from nothing to the largest mathematical investment firm in the nation. It’s about a $50 billion company that we sold in 2012.”
Garvy says this in a humble tone that makes a $50 billion firm sound like your kid’s Kool-Aid stand. This is an example of the person Murray wants to be when the NFL goes from a pay cut to pink slip.
Garvy is the father of Kevin Garvy, a teammate of Murray’s at UCF. Kevin has his MBA, as do a few more Murray’s college teammates who were mentored by Bob Garvy.
“Tay always stood out to me,” Garvy said. “I liked him and wanted to help him to the extent I could in giving him guidance when he had questions.
“So many of these players get to the NFL, make all that money but get themselves into a poor circumstances. When George O’Leary was here coaching, he used to tell them over and over, ‘The NFL stands for Not For Long.’ ”
Murray said he wants to start his own company one day.
“I’m not sure what it will be,” he said. “Maybe something for kids. Something with youth sports. Something maybe I didn’t have growing up. Somewhere you can play sports and stay off the streets and learn the right things. Maybe a restaurant business. I love to eat.”
Garvy said he’s convinced Murray will be a successful businessman.
“I’ve encouraged him everywhere he’s been to build his Rolodex, meet people, try and stay as close as he can to the highest-quality people he can meet,” Garvy said. “He does that, everything will take care of itself. What he does is anybody’s guess. But he’s thoughtful, smart and a very adaptable person. He’s got a whole array of roles he can play for ventures and companies.”
Defending running backs
Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell is the league’s highest-paid running back at $14.5 million. But in protesting the franchise tag and the Steelers not giving him a multiyear deal, Bell has held out for seven weeks, surrendering an $855,000 check each week.
“I would never fault a guy for believing in his ability and his worth,” Murray said. “Especially at our position.”
Murray is the 17th-highest-paid running back in the league. At every other nonspecialist position except fullback and left guard, the 17th-highest-paid player earns more than Murray. The 17th-highest-paid quarterback is current Cardinals backup Sam Bradford at $20 million a year.
“Running back, I feel, is the most physical position on the field,” Murray said. “We’re protecting the quarterback against guys who running at us with a 5- or 10-yard start. We’re getting hit on every run. We’re catching the ball. The fact we do everything is one of the reasons I feel the league underappreciates the running back.”
According to his coaches, Murray knows how to separate the business side from the football field.
“No. 1, he’s a great person,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s very diligent about his work, practices hard.”
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was in Oakland when the Raiders drafted Murray in the sixth round in 2013. Murray spent that season on injured reserve, but has missed only three games since.
“The first sign that Latavius was going to be a really good pro, even though he wasn’t playing, he treated every day like he was a starter,” DeFilippo said. “You can tell. Guys that usually have that mind-set as a rookie have a tendency to find a niche in this league and carve a way out for themselves.”
Murray isn’t sure what will happen after this season.
“I want to play here or somewhere I can show what I can do,” he said. “I would love for it to be with the Vikings.”
But, as a running back, the future can be murky.
“I just want to continue giving my family everything it needs,” Murray said. “I do feel I have to keep working and put more in the bank account. But even if I didn’t, I still want to go on and do something more with my life.”