After keeping him on the roster for 12 weeks, the Dallas Cowboys released veteran running back Darren McFadden on Sunday. But why now?
It was just two seasons ago that McFadden, the fourth overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, emerged from a running back-by-committee that included forgotten names like Joseph Randle, Christine Michael and Lance Dunbar to rush for over 1,000 yards in Dallas.
Last year, after suffering an elbow injury in the offseason, McFadden was overshadowed by the league’s new leading rusher, rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. With Elliott expected to be suspended for six games at some point this season, Run DMC remained on the roster as his projected replacement.
Yet, throughout this season, McFadden has been a healthy scratch while running backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith filled the depth chart behind Elliott. The veteran’s lack of special teams play was the suspected difference. Starting three games ago, Zeke began serving that suspension. And McFadden’s ascension to the starting role never came.
In fact, during the last three games without Elliott in the lineup, McFadden rushed the ball a single time for -2 yards. Undoubtedly frustrated, it appears the Cowboys agreed to release the 10-year veteran so he may continue his career elsewhere. But why did Dallas keep him so long in the first place?
Insurance seemed to be the early answer as the Cowboys simply didn’t know from week-to-week when Elliott would have to start serving his suspension. But that theory seems to lose water when you consider how sparingly Dallas used McFadden in the past three games without Zeke. It seems like a clear indication the Cowboys believe Morris and Smith are simply better running backs right now.
If that’s the case, the Cowboys did both themselves and McFadden a disservice by keeping him on the roster for this long. If Dallas believe the 30-year old running back was washed up, why not release him earlier or trade him to get something in return and invest both their time and money into a player they actually believe in?
This delayed move speaks to the dysfunction that appears to be running rampant through the entire Cowboys organization right now. While other front office’s make moves to help their roster, like the Philadelphia Eagles trading for running back Jay Ajayi, Dallas seems more than satisfied to sit on their hands and be reactive rather than proactive.
This season has shined a giant spotlight on the Dallas Cowboys lack of depth and development on their roster. Flaws in how they evaluate talent, both in free agency and the draft, have become major concerns. And this latest move, simply releasing Darren McFadden in Week 12 instead of trading him away or releasing him earlier is the latest misstep that should force the Cowboys to re-evaluate their entire front office, coaches and staff this offseason.