After spending an entire off-season proclaiming that they were pleased with the team’s running back situation, the Dallas Cowboys did what almost everyone knew they would do at some point, try to upgrade the position. On Sunday, Dallas traded a conditional fifth round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for third-year running back Christine Michael.
So what type of player are the Cowboys getting in this deal? Is Michael, a career backup, capable of being a starting running back or is he just an insurance policy in case of injury?
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The answer to that question is complicated. During his two seasons in Seattle, Michael earned praise for his athleticism but was viewed as immature and enigmatic.
First, let us look at the upside of Michael. He is an amazing athlete.
At 5’10 and 221 lbs. Michael wowed scouts at the 2013 NFL pre-Draft combine.
"According to sportspressnw.com, “the former Texas A&M Aggie had the highest vertical leap (43 inches) and cone (6.69 seconds) and shuttle (4.02 seconds) drills. He was second in the broad jump (10 feet, 5 inches) and third in the bench press (27 reps with 225 pounds). His time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash ranked ninth, but only one of the eight faster backs weighed more than 210 pounds.”"
The native of Beaumont, Texas is the most gifted running back on the roster and he will have every opportunity to earn a role in the Cowboys’ backfield. But if Michael is so talented, why has he only rushed for 254 yards in two NFL seasons?
In short, Michael displays immaturity and often does not seem to take the game of football seriously. There are numerous examples of these traits being circulated by the national media and the Seattle news outlets.
Art Thiel of sportspressnw.com recalls an odd action from Michael during the 2014 training camp.
"“When the offensive unit on field completed a big pass play, the unit on sidelines erupted, then moved out to the field. Instead of walking or running, Michael did a bizarre, frog-like ambulation in which he squatted so deeply that he knees skimmed along the ground as he propelled himself forward with feet bowed in so that he appear to be running in his ankles.”"
This does not sound like a player focused on his job and taking his craft seriously. Rather, it is reminiscent of a little league outfielder who is so bored that he takes his glove off and wears it on his head.
And this immaturity in practice seemed to translate to the field. According to a piece by Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times, Michael’s inconsistency on the field caused him to lose the trust of his coaches.
"“You might see the great cut one time and then not the next, and it’s the exact same scenario,” offensive-line coach Tom Cable said last year. “He comes across and makes a great blitz pickup one play and then he’s supposed to chip and then, ‘Oh, I’m going to get out for my route, and oops I forgot to chip.’ It’s just being able to put a good play together and then a good one the next time and the next time. When that becomes his habit, then he owns it. Right now he doesn’t own it.”"
Jenks recalls the moment when Michael fell out of favor with the Seattle coaches. After making a twelve yard reception in which he stepped out of bounds rather than absorbing a hit to try and pick up the first down, Michael left the field and celebrated this play by running down the sidelines to the end zone yelling the entire time.
Michael did not play again in that game. It is moments like these that made Michael available to be grabbed by the Cowboys for a relatively low cost.
This move is a high reward – low risk play by the Cowboys. No one argues Michael’s ability to play the game of football at a high level. But there is a long line of tremendous athletes that flamed out because they never treated the game like a profession.
Michael could become the starting back in Dallas; he is that talented. But it remains to be seen if he can mature enough to be entrusted with the workload that comes with being a lead back in the NFL.