Arizona Cardinals resuscitated running game with 1998 trade

(Photo by Mark Brettingen/Getty Images) Adrian Murrell
(Photo by Mark Brettingen/Getty Images) Adrian Murrell /

The 1998 deal that brought Adrian Murrell to the desert made the Arizona Cardinals rushing attack a force to be reckoned with.

It was the NFL’s 1998 offseason, and the Arizona Cardinals were in search of a running back who could take some of the pressure off of their young quarterback.

Jake “The Snake” Plummer emerged just months before, injecting some life into an offense that revolved almost entirely around the pass in 1997. The pressure fell on Cards general manager Bob Ferguson to find a ball-carrier who could command the respect of the opposition’s defensive units.

In April of 1998, Ferguson found a solution to Arizona’s most glaring problem. The New York Jets had recently acquired the great Curtis Martin, a move which made veteran back Adrian Murrell expendable. As the old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

Not surprisingly, the Cardinals pounced. Murrell and a seventh-round draft choice were acquired from the Jets for a third-round pick. Finally, the Cards possessed a running back who could make the squad’s offensive unit a two-dimensional attack.

New addition becomes the face of the Arizona Cardinals rushing attack

The Redbirds were saddled with professional football’s worst running game during the 1997 campaign. Leeland McElroy led the club with 424 rushing yards that season, averaging an ugly 3.1 yards per carry. Arizona averaged a putrid 78.4 yards per matchup, a number which ranked them dead-last in the league.

Murrell, for his part, was coming off of two consecutive 1,000-yard performances in the “Big Apple”. The fact that New York was willing to part ways with such a talented player was a gift for both the Cardinals and their fans.

The deal for Murrell paid off in a big way for the Cards during the 1998 schedule. In 15 games (14 starts), the 5-foot-11, 211-pounder accounted for 1,042 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Murrell also caught 18 passes for a total of 169 yards, adding another two scores on receptions.

With the help of Murrell, Arizona managed to make it to the postseason for the first time since 1982. While the 28-year-old’s regular-season contributions were certainly appreciated, it’s what Murrell did during the Wild Card round of the playoffs that really paid dividends for the Cardinals.

In January of 1999, the Cards proved that they were playoff-worthy by posting a 20-7 victory over a heavily-favored Dallas Cowboys club. Murrell was a huge part of the win, rumbling for 95 yards on the ground and taking a first-quarter shovel pass from Plummer into the end zone. In the opening moments of the second half, Murrell broke loose on a 74-yard jaunt that set up another Arizona touchdown.

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The Cardinals have pulled off some extremely outstanding trades during the history of the franchise. Add the agreement that delivered Murrell to the desert back in 1998 to that incredibly impressive list.