ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WBEN/AP-John Wawrow) — The mere mention of the Buffalo Bills potentially cutting Trent Murphy before the start of the season was preposterous to teammate and fellow starting defensive end Jerry Hughes.
And Hughes wasn’t afraid of expressing his views while he and Murphy sat side by side on a Zoom video call immediately following Buffalo’s 27-17 season-opening win over the New York Jets.
“I saw those talks and it’s asinine. He’s been huge since he got here Day 1,” Hughes said, with the only thing hiding his ire being the protective mask covering his face.
“For people to write that in the offseason just goes to show how bored we were, just looking for a story,” he added. “You can’t have a better teammate. So I’m happy he doesn’t read that mess.”
Murphy was so impressed, he turned and exchanged a friendly fist bump with Hughes.
Questioned over whether his production over his first two seasons in Buffalo matched his high-priced contract, Murphy began showing what he was worth Sunday.
Three years removed from a severe knee injury that wiped out his final season in Washington, Murphy was dominant in both attacking the quarterback and defending the run.
On the second play from scrimmage, Murphy wrapped up Le’Veon Bell in open space to limit the running back to a 3-yard gain in helping force the first of the Jets’ five three-and-out possessions.
In the second quarter, while Hughes was getting held by rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton, Murphy overwhelmed tight end Chris Herndon in bringing down Sam Darnold for a 4-yard loss for Buffalo’s first of three sacks, and forcing yet another three-and-out.
This was the type of one-two pass-rushing punch opposite Hughes the Bills envisioned upon signing Murphy to a three-year contract, with a base salary of $14.45 million in March 2018.
The Bills, most importantly, took into account Murphy was going to need plenty of time to re-establish himself in recovering from an injury in which he tore both ligaments in his left knee. The injury occurred with Murphy coming off a breakout season in which he had career-bests with nine sacks and 10 tackles for a loss.
Murphy finally started showing his form by closing last season with five sacks over the final eight weeks, while adding another two in a 22-19 overtime loss at Houston in an AFC wild-card playoff game.
“No offense to you guys, but I pretty much always ignore the noise,” Murphy said, referring to reporters in dismissing the speculation. “I think it’s tough for family and friends when they read the news, but there’s a lot that goes on in our facility that we keep in-house, and I just do my job.”
What some don’t see is how the seventh-year player has grown into a team leader, and highly regarded for his commitment to staying in shape. After being hurt, Murphy spent part of his rehabilitation at the invitation-only Westside Barbell gym in Columbus, Ohio, where Murphy pulled sleds and squatted 475 pounds.
Upon agreeing to sign with the Bills, Murphy was so eager to get to Buffalo, he made the six-plus hour drive from Columbus through a snowstorm.
“The way he prepares, the way he sets the tone for our young guys,” Hughes said. “You would probably be shocked to see how many young guys watch the way he works. And then when he comes out there on the field, he’s relentless.”
Speaking after establishing the Bills season-opening roster last week, general manager Brandon Beane echoed Hughes’ praise by stressing the importance he placed on Murphy for mentoring Buffalo’s young group of defensive linemen, including rookie second-round pick A.J. Epenesa.
“His leadership is very important to what he brings, and there’s value in that,” Beane said. “A lot of times people get caught up in this number or the stats, but Trent does a lot of the little things and a lot of the dirty work, too. It’s not all stats versus salary with us.”
Murphy’s production Sunday came in playing just 25 of 56 defensive snaps. The Bills elect to have a defensive line rotation in order to keep players fresh.
That’s fine with Murphy.
“It’s just awesome to have that depth, those guys to lean on,” he said as Buffalo prepares to play at Miami on Sunday.
“At the end of the day, you ignore the business stuff ... and you want to play for the (fans) and play with guys like Jerry,” Murphy said, turning toward Hughes. “He’s one of the best I’ve been around, a friend and teammate for life. So I’m happy to be here.”