The November 1st trade deadline came and went in the NFL, and yet running back Darren McFadden is still with the Dallas Cowboys. Given where the team is with the RB position, you have to wonder what their thought process is in how they’re dealing with McFadden this season.
McFadden started the season on the Non-Football Injury list because of an elbow fracture suffered on his personal time. That injury has allowed Dallas to hang on to McFadden without having to use a roster spot. They can continue to do so until after Week 11, at which point they must either release McFadden or place him on Injured Reserve.
By the normal medical timetable, Darren McFadden should be healed from the elbow injury. By his own recent comments to media, he’s healthy and ready to play.
So why isn’t he?
The Cowboys all but moved on from McFadden during the last offseason. Drafting Ezekiel Elliott in the first round and signing veteran Alfred Morris seemed to be the death knells for McFadden’s time in Dallas.
What’s more, the Cowboys stocked up the depth chart. They re-signed Lance Dunbar with the hope that he would serve in a specialist role. They also added Darius Jackson in the sixth round of last April’s draft and brought back reserve prospect Rod Smith.
Despite these moves, Dallas held on to McFadden after the draft. His elbow injury occurred in late May. Had he been healthy, it’s highly probable that he would have been traded or released sometime before the start of the regular season.
Essentially, the Cowboys have used McFadden’s injury to turn him into an 11-week insurance plan at running back. If something happens to Elliott or Morris, they can active McFadden and still feel solid about their rushing attack. They could still keep him even if those two are healthy, releasing Dunbar, Jackson, or Smith to make room.
The Cowboys are holding Darren McFadden to every bit of his two-year contract. They are using the injury rules to their benefit and doing what’s best for the organization.
Is it harsh to McFadden? Probably, but you can’t say it’s unfair. He wouldn’t even have value in 2016 if not for the Cowboys kindness a year ago.
Dallas pulled McFadden off the NFL scrap heap and, with their elite offensive line, turned him into the fourth-leading rusher in 2015. McFadden was an afterthought in free agency that year, and perhaps only found work thanks to being a former Arkansas Razorback like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Nobody would blame McFadden if he’s disappointed at not getting a chance this year with another team. However, you also can’t blame the Cowboys for feeling that McFadden owes them, rather than the other way around.
There are three games left until Dallas has to either activate McFadden, release him, or place him on Injured Reserve. There will be somewhere around 90-100 carries by running backs during that time, so more than few opportunities for the door to open for him to find a role with the team.
And again, McFadden could end up being the number-three back. Dallas just might extend that insurance policy right on through the end of the season.
Give credit to Darren McFadden for not making this more difficult for Dallas. Unhappy NFL players have their ways of making teams pay for their displeasure. Other than a couple of small remarks on social media, McFadden hasn’t been openly resentful or rebellious to the Cowboys’ decisions.
Usually, the cold business side of the NFL comes when players are released from contracts. It’s less common for it to be when a guy is being held to one, but they are called “contracts” for a reason.
Even if we never see Darren McFadden in a Cowboys jersey in 2016, he has certainly been an intriguing figure this season. In a few more weeks, we may finally get the end of the story.