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Cowboys Have Increasing Uncertainty at Running Back

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last week's Hall of Fame game gave Cowboys fans some good looks at running backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, assumed to be competing for the third spot on the RB depth chat. Also, new comments from Jerry Jones have made Ezekiel Elliott's future tougher to predict. Throw in a brief but uninspiring performance from Darren McFadden and we have arguably more confusion now at RB than we did a week ago.

Jerry Jones, Ezekiel Elliott

Jerry Jones and Ezekiel Elliott (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Let's start at the top; Ezekiel Elliott's possible suspension has been hanging over the Cowboys all summer. During the Hall of Fame festivities, Jerry Jones commented on Zeke's situation in a concerning way.

"There are a couple of issues that might or might not fall — and that’s going to be up to the league to the decide — under the behavioral guidelines."

It's not the most direct comment ever, which Jerry's rarely are, but it does speak to the likelihood that the league is considering more with Elliott than just the domestic violence allegation. Whether it's the St. Patrick's Day parade shirt-lifting, the trip to the marijuana shop in Seattle, a speeding ticket for 100 mph, or his proximity to whatever happened at that nightclub, Zeke may be headed for a wrist-slapping, preventative disciplinary measure from Roger Goodell.

However, not long after those comments, Jerry went on to say that he did not expect any kind of suspension for Elliott. It's hard to know if that's supportive or even wishful thinking, or just an objective appraisal from the Cowboys owner. Either way, many now think a one or two-game suspension is very possible if Zeke's entire body of work is being considered.

Darren McFadden

RB Darren McFadden

With three carries for a total loss of six yards, Darren McFadden's preseason started with a brief whimper. As we'll get to in a minute, Alfred Morris and Rod Smith had far better success with their carries that night. However, before you go handing McFadden's job to one of them, there are two key points to keep in mind.

McFadden's three carries came at the start of the game when the Cowboys offense looked the most befuddled. The offensive line created nothing for him to use. Also, let's be real; three carries is hardly a solid sample size. One long run can change the way your entire night is perceived, much like how Morris benefited from his 25-yarder. Without it, he had six carries for 17 yards.

It's important to remember that McFadden's value isn't just in carrying the ball. He's an exceptional backfield blocker and receiver, making him an ideal third-down option. With Ezekiel Elliott as the workhorse, McFadden can go in and be more useful in various spots; more of a Swiss Army knife player than Morris. He can even return a kickoff in a pinch.

Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith

Still, there's no denying that Alfred Morris and Rod Smith were the standout running backs in the game. Morris 25-yard run showed both athleticism and power, and on several other carries he did a nice job of reading blocks quickly before hitting the right lane. Both players had to make something out of nothing a few times.

With his 18 carries, Rod Smith got the biggest workload and shined consistently. His final stat line of 64 yards on 18 carries is not a great average, but Smith was clearly doing the best with what second and third-string offensive linemen could give him. He showed good improvisational ability, agility, and also power throughout the night. He even had three catches for 25 yards.

There were already reports that Rod Smith was threatening Morris' roster spot coming out of training camp and this game showed you why. Along with effective running, Rod is a solid special teams player and even has the experience from playing a little fullback last year. He is a more justifiable number-three RB than a guy who doesn't give you all of the extra things. Plus, cutting Morris saves you $1.6 million off the salary cap

~ ~ ~

Obviously, Ezekiel Elliott is the team's workhorse back for whatever number of games he is allowed to play. At this point, there's little reason to think that Darren McFadden will fall out of the number-two spot, let alone off the roster completely. A suspension will likely allow the Cowboys to delay their decision between Alfred Morris and Rod Smith; it is doubtful that will keep four running backs given Zeke's projected workload.

With four games and a lot of practices between now and final cuts, there is plenty of time for assumptions and projections to change. As last week proved, it doesn't take much for us to start rethinking things. The picture may get even murkier before it finally clears up.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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7 Comments
  • Randy Martin

    I can’t think of any player ever suspended for their “body of work.” And yet that has been discussed. Jerry has been very specific on the issue of domestic violence and having reviewed everything says it doesn’t exist. Now we know sometimes it’s hard to take everything he says at face value. So let’s look at the other issues. First off can we just stop talking about getting ticketed for doing 100 in a 70? Who among the male population hadn’t taken the car out on the freeway and cleaned the pipes out? The difference here is he got caught. Are traffic violations covered under the personal conduct policy? I think not unless it includes other charges not noted. While he was wrong for his behavior on St.Patrick’s Day had that happened in New Orleans on Mardi Gras would we be talking about it. I’m pretty sure Gronk’s wild cruise featured much worse…we just have no photos. And we don’t have a precedent for this so not sure how that will be viewed by the league. The recent nightclub incident was closed after a short investigation due to lack of co-operation. Unless there is any conclusive evidence by the NFL such as a video of Zeke throwing the punch or a large check going from Zeke to the DJ in the days after I’m not sure the NFL is in a position to impose any suspension for that incident. As for the trip to the marina and shop….bad look but suspendable? No record of a purchase made or a failed test so if a citizen can’t walk into a legal place of business then something is wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s wise because perception is reality. I just wish whatever is going to happen, happens soon because I’m tired of reading about it. I did notice that Zeke was playing with his phone or something in his lap during JJ’s HOF speech while all other players had all eyes on Jerry. Maybe we should add that to the list.

    • Jess Haynie

      That’s the think with Zeke; you can isolate any of his issues and poke holes in them. But the accumulation of issues and question marks, with the shadow of domestic violence involved, is why he’s now in hotter water than he really should be. It may be harsh, but not really unfair.

      I don’t think he’s going to get suspended, but he needs to start living life with the recognition of how thin the ice has become.

  • Russ_Te

    Fail a drug screen, do a criminal offense, the league has to step in with suspensions to guard the brand.

    For the rest of Elliott’s behavioral issues, suspension should be a last resort. He can be warned & fined first. There is a fine line between preserving the brand and serving as 24/7 chaperone. The NFL needs to avoid the latter IMO. Let the teams deal internally with the stupid stuff a 22-year old does.

    McFadden looked uninspired but you figure that changes for regular season. Besides, why bang him up right now? He & Zeke should get a few reps, give the rest to those battling for a roster spot.

    • Jess Haynie

      I agree that it’s not up to the league to become a surrogate father. Unfortunately for Zeke, the DV accusation paints everything else with a different brush. That’s the reality of being an NFL player in a post-Ray Rice world.

  • John Williams

    One week of the preseason doesn’t change anything for me.

    I would want to continue to see Alfred Morris as an effective back before being willing to keep him on the roster. In my opinion, I think he’s auditioning mostly for other teams. I don’t think he does enough to get rid of McFadden or Smith. If anything they might be forced to carry four running backs and a full back if he continues to play well. But given that they want to feed Zeke, it seems carrying 4 running backs is a luxury. Especially with what Rod smith has been showing in camp so far.

    • Jess Haynie

      What scares me with Morris is that he looked good all of the 2016 preseason and even in some limited touches early in September, but his effectiveness clearly waned over time. McFadden came off NFI list last year and showed way more chemistry in his few touches. It would take a pretty dramatic difference in these next four games for me to feel confident enough about Morris to even question DMC’s job status.

      I think Rod Smith has almost secured a roster spot. Not only does he look good and give you special teams value, but he’s also the only guy who is under contract in 2018. If he keeps this up, he could probably be RB2 next year.

      • John Williams

        Totally agree. I just don’t see them being willing to bring four tail backs to the 53. Just seems that Morris is an odd man out. They might have been a bit hasty signing him in the first place if they intended on drafting Zeke last year. Was a solid insurance policy.

Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.



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Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!



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Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.

The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.

Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPNAnd here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.

I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.

But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.

Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.

Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.

I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.

I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.

"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.

Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.



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