Dwayne Harris has been the Dallas Cowboys 'go to' guy on kick returns over the past two and a half seasons, but the New York Giants rushed to throw money at him in free agency and that left a job opening on the Dallas special teams. Right now there is not a player on the roster who would be an ideal fit for the role. Common sense would dictate that the team would not want to place top receiver Dez Bryant back to return kicks very often, if at all. The same goes for the team's number two wideout, Terrence Williams. Both play too big of a role in the Dallas offense to be placed in a high risk role on special teams.
The team's 'hobbit", Cole Beasley is not an ideal fit either although he might find himself as the designated punt return man. Lance Dunbar may wind up being the return man on kick offs if the Cowboys do not find that one guy who will be a weapon in the return game, but durability may be a concern with him. Neither man is likely to provide the type of excitement that Harris was capable of delivering when he got his hands on the ball as a return man. He may not have been the next Devin Hester, but #17 was a threat to make things happen that would flip the field in the Cowboys favor.
Around the team there had been some concerns that Harris was not as explosive in 2014 as he had been in the previous two years, and the stats support this belief. Last year he averaged only 9.2 yards per punt return where he had previously averaged 12.8 yards per return in 2013 and over 16 yards per return in 2012. Fumbles had become a concern as well; he put the ball on the ground four times as a punt returner in 2014. Harris experienced a similar decline in returning kickoffs. A 30.6 yard per attempt average in 2013 fell to 24.7 yards last season. He was not the weapon that he had been in previous seasons. Even the eye test showed that Harris was not as explosive as he was in seasons past. He just did not look quite like himself, at least in my eyes.
Harris found himself in a position that no player, especially a role dog, wants to be in. He will be 28 years old right after the season begins, and time is going to play a role in his career from here on out. He also is coming off of a season that saw some serious decline to his productivity. With those thoughts in mind, the Dallas Cowboys made a decision not to wrap up his services prior to the state of free agency even though his replacement does not appear to be on the current roster. Today's Cowboys do not overpay for aging and declining talent, they leave that to other franchises. The new way of doing business in Dallas is to always be looking to the future, and while selecting a new kick return specialist may not be high on the list of fans, there is little doubt that the front office has a plan to address this need in the near future.
As of right now there is a job opening at Valley Ranch. There are workable but less than ideal options in house. There is also a chance that Devin Street might find himself being used in the role. That is not likely because of concerns with his straight line speed. More likely is that the front office will roll the dice later in the draft on a speedy wide receiver who has some experience returning kicks. The job will be his to lose, but Dallas will not be forced to keep him around if he does not deliver. The team is putting itself in position to have options, and that is what successful organizations do, especially with later round selections.