In football, as in life, second chances don’t come along very often. When the NFL free agency and trading period begins on March 12, the Dallas Cowboys will have the opportunity to undo a draft decision they made in 2004 when they let running back Steven Jackson slip through their fingers. Lo these many years later, Jackson is riding an eight-year 1,000 yard streak, while the revolving door at running back continues in Big D.
We in Cowboyland have become all too familiar with our illustrious owner’s love for doing the unexpected. Looking back on that fateful draft day, I can still remember how I broke out in a cold sweat when the announcement came that the Cowboys would pass their #22 pick to the Buffalo Bills. I had been anticipating Dallas’ first round pick and thinking, like many in the know did that day, that the front office folks at The Ranch would fix our ailing running back situation by adding the Oregon State bruiser to our roster. They did make an addition to the backfield that day in Julius Jones. However, that failed experiment has had a rippling effect that continues to be felt by the Cowboys to this day.
It goes without saying what a huge void was created when the league’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, departed Dallas. Trying to fill that hole has been a work in progress for far too long. When Julius Jones made his rookie appearance in 2004, he contributed a respectable 800-plus yards in a disappointing 6-10 season. As luck would have it, he would never have the chance to fully shine as 2005 brought Marion “The Barbarian” Barber to town. Barber and Jones seemed to be working well in a dual-back system that was employed by then head coach Bill Parcells. With Jones as the starter and Barber as the closer, Dallas appeared to have a winning combination in the backfield once again. Sadly, that promising experiment was abandoned when the Cowboys and new head coach Wade Phillips opted to bow to fan pressure and made Barber the starter. His punishing style was never meant for an every-down role and when he was unable to live up to the seven year $45 million contract that Jones signed him to, Barber fell out of favor. The emergence of rookie sensation Felix Jones from Jones’ alma mater, Arkansas, coupled with the addition of Tashard Choice, meant the beginning of the end for Barber in Big D. Likewise, Choice was soon shown the door in Dallas. With Jones an unrestricted free agent this year, he is sure to be next.
The latest Cowboys would-be star running back Demarco Murray has shown flashes of brilliance since his debut in 2011. His 253 yards, which oddly enough came against Jackson’s St. Louis Rams in 2011, eclipsed the franchise single-game mark of 237 yards that had been held by Smith. Murray has been bitten by the injury bug, though, and has missed nine games in just two seasons.
From where I sit, when Jackson announced that he would void the end of his contract with the Rams and hit the free-agent market, it was like a neon sign from the football gods saying, “Jerry, don’t screw this up again…” If Dallas chooses to stand pat on this one and another team…say the New York Giants…swoops in and signs Jackson, it will come back and bite them in the behind come September. Adding him, coupled with some offensive line help from the draft, will pay dividends for our backfield situation. Not only will the Cowboys be bringing in a successful veteran who has plenty of gas left in his tank; they will also be providing Murray with a mentor to help him develop into the kind of durable back he is capable of being. It’s a win-win proposition for everybody involved. The Cowboys get to fix a faux pas from draft days past and Jackson gets to suit up for the most recognizable franchise in the NFL and spend his Sunday afternoons in Jerry’s billion-dollar baby. What’s not to love here?
Come on Jerry…make that call!