From the moment the season ended, Cowboys fans have been assessing the needs of this team to come up with a way to break the monotony of mediocrity that has exemplified this team. I have been on record saying that the defense requires all of the attention in free agency and the draft and I maintain that position, however, there is some recent activity that has occurred to make me a grant an exception. Reports around the league this weekend indicate that the New Orleans Saints will be parting ways with one of their most dynamic weapons when they are going to release RB Darren Sproles.
In case you’re unfamiliar with his work, Sproles has been a nightmare of a matchup for opposing defenses for the better part of his last four years in the league, primarily with New Orleans. He set the NFL record in 2011 for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,696 total including over 600 rushing and 700 receiving all while scoring ten touchdowns. While Sproles is diminutive in stature, he is extremely durable, missing only five games the last seven seasons. Dallas fans got an up close and personal look at the damage he is capable of doing earlier this year in the 49-17 drubbing the Saints put on us. Sproles scored a touchdown rushing and receiving in that game and posted a 10+ yard per catch average.
In my opinion, Sproles would be the perfect change of pace back to pair with incumbent starter DeMarco Murray. Murray can be an effective weapon coming out of the backfield in the passing game but his prowess is nowhere near Sproles in this aspect. For all of you thinking we may have a younger, cheaper version of Sproles already on the roster in Lance Dunbar, I cannot disagree. What better way to mentor the young Dunbar though, then to bring in a guy who has a history of making defenses look foolish. Besides, who knows what, if any burst Dunbar may have lost after having his knee surgically repaired. He also would represent everything Dallas thought they had when they drafted former Cowboy Felix Jones back in 2008. In fact, in comparing the two backs, while Jones was a more prolific rusher, he does not compare to Sproles as a receiver. Sproles has tallied almost three times as many career receiving yards as Jones. Ironically, they have the same amount of rushing touchdowns, but once again Sproles blows Jones out of the water in receiving touchdowns, besting him by a margin of 27-3.
Another aspect to consider is the new offensive coordinator in Dallas. Scott Linehan has had experience with similar backs to Sproles and was able to get them to produce some pretty beastly numbers. In 2003, with the Minnesota Vikings, Linehan was able to get 700+ rushing yards and 600+ receiving yards out of Moe Williams who was never in the same caliber of talent as Sproles. In 2006, as head coach of the Rams, he oversaw an offense that included 1,500+ rushing yards and 800+ receiving yards on 90 catches from RB Steven Jackson. Last year in Detroit, he was able to get two different backs (Joique Bell & Reggie Bush) over 100 total catches between the two of them and 500+ yards receiving each. Pairing Sproles with a Linehan offense could be the dynamic the Cowboys have been missing for quite some time. I have always felt that the screen game has been atrocious if not completely non-existent and this would certainly change. Beyond that, Sproles could be put in the slot or outside to get interesting one-on-one match ups for not only himself but Dez Bryant and Jason Witten which would open up things considerably on offense.
It’s no secret that Dallas has little money to throw at free agents but I think Sproles would come at a reasonable rate. With DeMarcus Ware likely to return at a reduced rate freeing up some extra cap space and Miles Austin’s obvious release allowing the necessary monies to sign draft picks, Sproles could be one of the few low risk / high reward options in free agency that the Cowboys may actually be able to afford. If you don’t think this would be a good idea, I can guarantee you that Drew Brees would disagree with you. More importantly, so would Tony Romo.