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Are Cowboys Planning A Complete Remake Of The Running Back Corps?

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The team has set the table to part ways with both Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar in favor of Darren McFadden and Ryan Williams.

Good news for Darren McFadden may be bad news for a couple of current Cowboys.
Good news for Darren McFadden may be bad news for a couple of current Cowboys.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I get some of my best ideas on Twitter. In the discussions there with a variety of people, questions are raised, ideas are tossed out, and critiques flow in from a variety of sources both knowledgeable and not so well informed. The rapid fire exchanges are a great way to shake up thoughts and make you take a look at things from a different angle as well as get valuable input that had not occurred to you.

Now that I've completed my self-serving and heavy-handed hint to you to follow my Twitter account, here are some thoughts I have had lately.

The Cowboys went through the 2014 season with DeMarco Murray, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar as their running back corps, with Tyler Clutts as fullback. We are all quite aware of what happened with Murray. Either as a result of his dominating performance, or a major contributing factor to it, neither Randle nor Dunbar played much of a role during the season. There are claims that the team has a severe lack of trust in Randle, compounded by the investigation by both law enforcement and the NFL into the domestic violence incident still hanging over his head. Dunbar just seems to inspire little confidence from either the coaches or Tony Romo on the field.

We already know the Cowboys have signed two fullbacks and appear to be moving on from Clutts (see the BTB free agent stream for details). With the guaranteed money paid to Ryan Williams, the signing of Darren McFadden, and the rich crop of running backs in the draft, the signs are pointing to the Cowboys rolling into the 2015 season with an entirely new cast of characters in the backfield to run the ball.

The move to make sure that Williams would be with the team by giving him by far the largest guarantee of any player signed to a futures contract in the league looks to be an indication that the team is setting him up to take Randle's role as the primary backup, with the ability to play as an every down back should he be needed. Randle is an easy cut, with only a $65,000 dead money cost (all cap figures from Over the Cap). Williams also is a long shot at winning the starting role outright, but that is not the likely reason for him being locked up by the team. He certainly didn't hurt his chances with the coaches when he explained why he was still with the team despite getting multiple offers to go join other rosters during the 2014 season.

This is the kind of attitude you want from a player that could become part of what is expected to be more of a "by committee" approach to the running back position from Dallas. He should get some chances to come in for a series or two each half to keep the starter fresh while that offensive line is wearing down the defense.

That line is also one of the reasons that the player sometimes known as Run DMC was so excited to walk this way when the Cowboys came calling. (Lord, forgive me for what I did right there.) And I was struck by some things that Bryan Broaddus picked up in his scouting report at the mothership.

Really good lateral agility and change of direction. Did not see him drop a ball that was thrown in his direction. Will check down over the ball and make the catch or work to the outside and adjust to the screen. Was able to adjust to a ball that was high from Carr. Gathered it in and worked up the field.

His running style is more elusive than Murray's. Split time with several backs during the games I studied but has some three down traits.

Was really surprised of his willingness, technique and finish as a pass blocker.

Based on these observations, McFadden may provide a double threat. He has that much valued ability to help keep Romo safe in the pocket. And he looks quite capable to come out of the backfield as the kind of third down threat that the Cowboys wanted Dunbar to be, but never quite became. As Michael Sisemore quoted in his look at McFadden, he has a key trait that would make him a good choice for the role that Dunbar was supposed to fill.

McFadden is much better in space, so Jackson called plays that let McFadden get to the outside more often.

When McFadden's signing was announced, some in the Twitterverse wondered why Dallas had tendered Lance Dunbar as a restricted free agent, but the key fact about that tender is that there is no guaranteed money involved. At this point, the most valuable thing about Dunbar to the Cowboys may be that he represents a $1.5 million cap savings if he is cut. Randle would add over half a million more. There is no cap downside to parting ways with both.

The OTAs, minicamp, and training camp may change things, but right now it looks a lot like Dallas is setting things up to have a completely new group of backs to carry the ball out of the backfield. A lot of the coverage has tried to evaluate McFadden as the replacement for Murray, but that is not what his signing was about. Plan A is for him to pair with Williams as the backups and to also give the team a good change of pace option. That makes his low cost deal look even better, and should the team decide he is not the best option for the roster, they also incur minimal dead money should he be released.

Once again, the reality that free agency cannot be judged until things have played fully out is reinforced. The process continues.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB