INDIANAPOLIS -- As Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson and new head coach Mike Vrabel set about evaluating prospects at the NFL Combine and begin to assess their roster going forward, one of the biggest questions on the agenda is whether running back DeMarco Murray still fits into the team's plans.
Murray, who was acquired in a trade from Philadelphia in 2016, rewarded the Titans in his first season with them by leading the AFC in rushing and helping to turn a losing culture into a winning one in Tennessee.
Last season, Murray was beset by hamstring, knee and shoulder issues almost from the start of training camp and finally succumbed to a high ankle sprain just one week before the end of the regular season. He finished with 659 yards rushing in 2017 and averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
Now, at age 30 and with a $6.25 million base salary for 2018, plus a $250,000 roster bonus due during the new league year, there have been reports and speculation that the Titans would move on from Murray and find a running back in the draft or free agency to pair with Derrick Henry.
When asked about Murray's status Wednesday, Robinson and Vrabel offered pretty pat answers about Murray's situation. While not exactly revealing their plans, the way the question was answered sure made it seem like Murray's days as a Titan might be numbered.
"He's under contract right now. We'll see how it goes," Robinson said. "We're evaluating everybody on the roster. At this time of year with free agency, that's when the financial components come into things, unlike the draft process where you just pick them. We're evaluating everybody on the football team, along with the guys that could be potential free agents here in the next few weeks."
Vrabel's answer followed along much the same lines as the one offered by Robinson just minutes earlier to reports inquiring about the veteran running back.
"I don't get into a whole lot of reports outside of our building," Vrabel said. "What's important is what happens inside our building and what Jon and I view as important to our team. As far as reports, I couldn't comment on those, but I know as far as Jon and I understand that he's under contract and we move forward until he's not under contract."
When asked to assess the running backs on the roster, Vrabel did point out Murray being a proven commodity, but still erred on the side of being vague overall about the veteran.
"I think we have some big, powerful runners. DeMarco is a proven player in this league. Derrick is a young player that has performed well when he's been given an opportunity. ... It's like every position that we've talked about. We're looking to add and improve," Vrabel said.
--One of the areas where the Titans need to upgrade this offseason is at backup quarterback, especially with Marcus Mariota having not played a 16-game schedule yet in his first three NFL seasons. He came closest to that this year with 15 games played, missing one game with a hamstring issue, but had several other games where the injury seemed to bother him and hinder his play.
Behind Mariota, the Titans had veterans Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden, who is a free agent. On Wednesday, Vrabel was asked if he preferred a veteran backup or a quarterback in the same style as Mariota to serve as the Titans' No. 2.
He used a baseball comparison to give his answer.
"It's a critical position, just like all the backups that have to be ready to play on Sunday," Vrabel said. "A guy that can go in and finish the game for you and win a game. Guys that have won in this league. You watch the MLB playoffs, and the starter gets rocked in the second inning, and you've still got to win the game. They bring a guy in from the bullpen that's got to win the game. He can go four, five or six innings. He can't just get you out of a jam. He's got to win you a game. That's an important position."
--Robinson, of course, knew Vrabel from their days together in New England. But asked to describe his relationship with Vrabel while Robinson was a scout and Vrabel a linebacker for the Patriots, Robinson was matter-of-fact, but also used a fun anecdote about it.
"He was a player in New England, and I was just a scout. I was trying to find guys to replace him," Robinson said. "He knew that. He was the consummate pro, and he was what we on the scouting staff referred to as an enforcer, because anybody that we brought into that locker room in New England was going to uphold the standards of the culture we had set.
"He made a great point in his interview. He's been in every seat that those players have been in. He's been a special teams player, he's been a defensive player, and he's been an offensive player at times.
"He's been a rook, he's been a veteran and he's been an aging veteran."