It was reported yesterday that the Cowboys are actively seeking a trade partner for running back Alfred Morris. With both Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar entering free agency, this would leave some gaps to fill at the RB position. What would be Dallas' next moves?
Other than Morris, the Cowboys only have Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith under contract for 2017. You only have to be so concerned with the depth chart given Elliott's workload and franchise-player status, but you certainly don't want to leave the cupboard bare.
Today we're going to discuss how realistic an Alfred Morris trade is. We'll also consider the Cowboys' options for finding depth to put behind their superstar starter (“super-starter,” anyone?) and what Morris' exit could mean for the possible return of Darren McFadden or Lance Dunbar.
Alfred Morris Trade Potential
The other NFL teams would be justifiably uninterested in trading for Morris after 2016. Even though he was playing behind the league's best run-blocking offensive line, Alfred had a career-worst average of 3.5 yards on his carries. The explosiveness he showed during the preseason quickly fizzled out in September.
Even if Morris had been more productive, teams would likely be worried that he couldn't match that performance behind an inferior offensive line. Having a sub-par year makes it highly unlikely that a team will want to pay Alfred his $1.2 million base salary or the $438k roster bonus he's owed if he makes it through final cuts.
For a guy with Morris' red flags and contract, shopping him for a trade is as good as telling the rest of the NFL that you'll be releasing him soon. Any team that would be interested has little incentive to toss you a draft pick when they now anticipate him becoming a free agent. As little regard as we have for sixth and seventh-round picks sometimes, they are still assets that teams don't part with lightly.
So no, I don't see the Cowboys finding a trade partner for Alfred Morris. That it's even out there right now is a sign that Morris is done in Dallas. I expect that he will soon be released for the $1.6 million in cap savings that his contract offers.
Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar Returning?
As we discussed on the new Inside The Star Podcast yesterday, Darren McFadden is a better complimentary player to Ezekiel Elliott than Alfred Morris. He has the blocking and receiving skills to be a great third-down back and has logged a lot more time in our offense, both in years and touches.
If Dallas were to cut Morris and re-sign McFadden, they could probably do that for about the $1.6 million they'd free up by releasing Alfred. The two-year deal that McFadden signed with the Cowboys in 2014 averaged $1.5 million per year with some additional incentives. Dallas should be able to work out a similar contract with him now.
There has also been talk that, to the surprise of many, Dallas is still interested in keeping Lance Dunbar around as well. Other than his flourish of receiving plays in early 2015, Dunbar has never found a consistent role in the Cowboys offense. Still, he knows their system well and gives you added value as an option on kickoff returns.
With Rod Smith already available as a potential short-yardage back and special teams player, Dallas could decide to bring back McFadden and Dunbar on the cheap and settle their RB depth chart quickly this offseason. It would free them up to pursue other issues on the roster and not feel like they have to spend a draft pick on a RB, even in the later rounds.
Other Running Back Options
The big name out there is Adrian Peterson, but the most recent reports are that he is looking for a bigger role and contract than what the Cowboys would be able to give. Our own R.J. Ochoa wrote recently about how Peterson coming to Dallas would not be realistic.
Jamaal Charles is another household name who is now a free agent. Similar to Peterson, Charles grew up in Texas and also played college ball in Austin. If Charles is ready to accept a backup role, would he be interested in Dallas?
Having turned 30 in December and coming off two years of knee problems, Charles is hardly without risk. He's only appeared in eight games over the last two seasons. There are two sides to that coin; he's has some major injury risk but also has avoided some general wear-and-tear during these seasons.
If Charles is healthy now then he could be an exceptional change-of-pace back for the Cowboys. You could get the offensive line out in space, where Charles excels, on tosses and screen plays. Charles can even move out into a receiving position and run routes off the line. Essentially, he may be a much more talented version of Lance Dunbar.
While 30 is a dreaded number for running backs, we have recent examples of older guys like DeAngelo Williams in Pittsburgh and Chris Johnson in Arizona who had productive seasons in backup roles. As long he doesn't have medical issues holding him back, Charles has a reasonable shot of similar success in the Cowboys' offense.
If not Jamaal Charles, other free agents possibilities include Rex Burkhead (Bengals), Andre Ellington (Cardinals), or Latavius Murray (Raiders). For any of these players, it will come down to them being willing to accept a limited role and light compensation for a chance to contend for a championship and play behind Dallas' great offensive line.
As for the draft, there is little chance that Dallas will spend a significant pick at running back. They have many other needs to address and limited cap space to work with, leaving draft picks as a key resource for talent acquisition. Perhaps they use a sixth or seventh-round pick, as they did last year on Darius Jackson, but that might yield a player who you can't rely on in their rookie season.