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Will Alfred Morris be a Redskin in 2016?

Alfred Morris represents the epitome of what fans seem to want from modern day footballers; he is relentless, tough, and uncompromising on the field, and he is quiet, humble, and unassuming off the field.

Joining the Washington Redskins as pick 173 in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL draft, Morris joins the likes of Tom Brady and Antonio Brown as unlikely 6th round gems who play well above expectations based upon their draft positions. In his time with the Redskins he has never put a single foot wrong, doing everything that has been asked of him with aplomb, and in doing so, winning a place in the hearts of fans along for the ride.

It may then come as a surprise to some that 2015 could very well be the last season that Alfred Morris dons the burgundy and gold.

Entering the last year of his rookie contract, Morris is set to earn $1.54 million this year before becoming a free agent in 2016. Over the life of his contract with the Redskins, he will have earned a total of approximately $2.22 million, which in todays terms is obviously a pittance in comparison to many other running backs. For example, this offseason DeMarco Murray signed a five year $40 million contract with $21 million guaranteed, and Ryan Mathews signed a three year $11 million contract with $5 million guaranteed, both with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Redskins beat reporter Tarik El-Bashir, on last weeks episode of the Redskins Capital Connection podcast, noted that the Redskins are in no rush to present Morris with a contract extension, saying;

“The thing about running backs, you don’t want to say that they are a dime a dozen, and Alfred has gone well over 1,000 yards in each of his first 3 seasons, and he’s played very well for the Redskins. But it’s not necessarily a premium position unless you’re a game changing player.

I would expect Alfred will play out the remainder of his contract. And the Redskins are going to see if he can fit in with the type of scheme they are implementing this year. They are going to change things up this year. I know the team likes him, but I think they are going to take a wait and see approach with him [Morris].

There’s a reason they went out and got Matt Jones. He’s the type of running back that Bill Callahan covets”.

Supporting what El-Bashir said, ESPN’s John Keim went one step further, recently stating the following;

“With Morris’ contract up after this season, I’d say there’s a 50-percent chance of an extension happening”

Given these comments from reporters who are inside Redskins Park on a near daily basis, and when you consider that Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan has not mentioned any contract negotiations with Morris and his camp, it definitely appears that the Redskins are positioning themselves to move on from Alfred Morris. The question is though; ‘why’?

According to OverTheCap.com, the Redskins currently have $122,189,191 on the books for the 2016 salary cap, and this notably does not include extensions for Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan, both of whom are likely to get sizeable contracts. With the 2016 base salary cap sitting at $150,000,000, the Redskins are not flush with cap space going into next season.

If we look at two recent free agent running back contracts signed, we can start to get a picture of what Alfred Morris might be worth on the open market. As noted above,  DeMarco Murray is earning approximately $8 million a season under his new deal, and Ryan Mathews is earning $3.6 million a season.

Since joining the NFL in 2012, Morris has been a remarkably consistent and durable runner, never missing a game to injury, and averaging 4.5 yards per carry over his career. In fact, when we look at the NFL rush yard leaders since Alfred Morris was drafted, he sits comfortably second overall amongst some lofty company.

rush yards

Obviously Adrian Peterson’s absence in 2014 due to suspension impacts this top 5, however it means that at worst, Morris would be 3rd behind Peterson and Lynch, whom many consider to be elite talents.

Yet for a long time, Morris has battled the perception that he is simply a product of the zone blocking system, or a beneficiary of teams having to account for the threat of Robert Griffin III extending plays with his legs. Whilst both these perceptions are somewhat accurate, the fact remains that you cannot attain the type of success in the NFL that Morris has simply by relying on scheme.

Morris has demonstrated time and time again that he is a powerful runner, capable of gaining yards after contact as well as having excellent vision when it comes to identifying when and where to hit the holes.

Under new Redskins offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who will also be in charge of the ground game, this year the Redskins are transitioning away from the zone blocking scheme to more of a power running scheme that saw Dallas enjoy great improvement on the ground in 2014.

Let’s take a quick look at what this transition would likely mean for Alfred Morris.

Under the Callahan system in 2014, DeMarco Murray flourished, using his 6’0 and 220lbs size and athleticism to go on to be the 2014 rush yards leader. Murray excelled at the type of one-cut power run that Callahan loves, patiently following his blocks and allowing gaps to emerge.  Here is an example against the Chicago Bears last season:

Now if we compare that sort of run with what Morris was able to do in 2014, a year some considered to be a ‘down’ year compared to his previous seasons, things start to get interesting:

Running behind a significantly less talented offensive line, Morris demonstrates patience, poise, and the explosive power that helped Murray dominate his opposition in 2014.

Based on his previous years, there really is no reason to believe that Morris won’t be able to thrive under the Bill Callahan system. Whilst Morris doesn’t have the size that both Callahan and McCloughan seem to covet, checking in at only 5’10 height, what Morris does have is a spectacular football brain. Since 2012 we have seen him quickly identify what gaps to hit and when to hit them to maximize his output on the ground, and he has done so behind a consistently poor offensive line. It is probably no surprise then that when the Redskins drafted Brandon Scherff in this years NFL draft, Morris was instantly a fan of the pick;

Even though the current perception emanating from Redskins Park appears to be one of preparation to part ways with Morris, there is no reason to believe that if Morris is given the opportunity to prove himself he won’t thrive under the new system, just like Murray did in 2014. Head Coach Jay Gruden also appears to be willing to give Morris that opportunity, stating the following at a press conference this week;

“Alfred is a darn good halfback, so in order to take carries off of him, you’ve got to show a lot. So far, Matt has taken the right steps to take a little bit of the load off of Alfred. But like I said before, Alfred is our feature back.”

Yes, Morris is not a versatile running back; he has not been able to demonstrate a reliable ability to catch the football out of the backfield, and he has struggled at blitz pickups in pass protection assignments. But what Morris has demonstrated is that he is as reliable a running back as there is in the NFL.

If Morris stays healthy this year, and if he can continue to put up the type of numbers he has in the previous three seasons, then he should expect to attract a contract offer from the Redskins in the vicinity of the $4 million to $6 million per season range.

The ball, as has so often been the case in the past few years, is in Alfred Morris’ hands.

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