As many feared, Dallas Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar will miss the remainder of the 2015 NFL season with a knee injury. The fourth-year back out of North Texas torn both the MCL and ACL in his left knee while returning the opening kickoff of the second-half in the Cowboys overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday night. An MRI confirmed the injury on Monday.
The loss of Dunbar is a significant blow to a Cowboys offense that is already playing without it’s top two performers due to injury, quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Dunbar had found a unique niche in Dallas’ struggling offense in the first four weeks of the season, filling the receiving void left by Bryant.
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After Week Four, Dunbar is tied with tight end Jason Witten for the most receptions so far this season for Dallas. Along with his 21 catches this year, including a career-high 10 receptions for 100 yards last week against the Atlanta Falcons, Dunbar was also beginning to excel rushing the ball. On Sunday night, against the New Orleans Saints, he was the Cowboys leading rusher with 54 yards on only three carries. A bulk of that yardage came on a 45-yard scamper early in the first quarter.
This is the second time in four years Dunbar has been place on the season-ending injured reserve list. The first time was back in November of 2013. The diminutive running back tore his PCL, which is located in the back of the knee, in a victory over the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving day. That injury required season-ending surgery.
Moving forward, the Dallas Cowboys will likely turn to running back Christine Michael to help fill the void left by Dunbar. Above Michael on the depth chart, both running backs Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden are solid receivers out of the backfield and will likely see more opportunities in that area.
Dunbar’s absence does create an open spot on the Cowboys active roster. But that extra space will likely be filled by another position as injuries have decimated Dallas’ roster in other areas. But if the Cowboys are unhappy with any of their current running backs, the front office could look to another team’s practice squad, free agency or a trade to bring in a veteran runner.
But the most likely candidate would probably be rookie running back Gus Johnson, whom the Cowboys had on their roster through the preseason. After a short time on Dallas’ practice squad, Johnson was released so the Cowboys could fill other pressing needs. He’s currently on the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad.
If Dallas decides to dip into free agency instead, players like Steven Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw and Ray Rice are among the biggest names available. If the Cowboys decide to trade for a veteran runner, Chicago Bears’ running back Matt Forte is a name being tossed around in the rumor mills. But Forte’s $7+ million salary in 2015 makes a move unlikely.
Dallas will probably “stand pat” with the running backs they already have unless injury or poor play forces their hand. But if the Cowboys do decide to add another back to their depth chart, they’ll likely do so before their bye in Week Six to give that player extra time to adapt.