During the Mothership's weekly Cowboys Break show, resident Valley Ranch scout Bryan Broaddus mentioned that he was over 60% certain that the Cowboys weren't done looking at their running back situation. In fact, he went as far as to state that the Cowboys have two teams in mind as trade partners. Of course, he would not divulge the team's names, but it definitely sparked the curiosity of Cowboys Nation.
There are some other indications that Dallas is in no hurry to make this kind of move. But Bryan Broaddus is usually somewhat on the money when it comes to whispers in the hallways of Valley Ranch, as one should be when they work next to the coaches and personnel guys on a daily basis. Broaddus being a former personnel guy himself helps with the trust he gains from the front office in regard to ideas and plans.
Since at this point, these whispers are only whispers, we must delve deep into the ocean of NFL talent to try a dissect exactly what he could be talking about. Before anyone mentions the elephant of the offseason, Adrian Peterson is not included in this plan. The McClay-Jones Law of Acquiring Talent would support these sentiments:
1.) Find young talent with upside and history of production
2.) Don't take on inflated contracts
3.) Avoid trading premium collateral for older players
In fact, ESPN Stats & Information dove into the metrics of running backs and receivers by comparing their age and production:
The data for running backs is based on the production of all running backs who have played at least four NFL seasons since 2001, with a minimum average of 75 carries per season.
As you can see, the league's overall stance on aging running backs and the value of the position are supported by this chart. Where receivers can still play at high levels well into their 30's, running back numbers take a nose dive. After age 27, the running back's production drops by 15% at 28, followed by 25% at 29, and almost 40% at age 30. Wow. It's no coincidence that teams no longer value the position as highly but also certainly don't want to throw big cash at them either.
With all this in mind, it looks as though if Dallas is to add talent in the backfield, AP is not the ideal candidate. Whether or not he has less tread from missing 2014 aside, there is too much evidence to suggest it's not in the cards.
Instead, look for the Cowboys to search the league for talent that may be caught in the numbers game. The 2015 Draft had arguably the best running back depth in recent memory. Unfortunately for Dallas, that position didn't break as they had hoped it would. Although coming out of the draft with three first-round talents is worth missing out on a position, that disparity actually helps them on the market. With so many NFL clubs taking running backs, some quality starters and younger talents may get pushed out of their current nests. Here are the ones to keep a close eye on as the offseason rolls along.
1. Lamar Miller 5'11 218 lbs, Miami Dolphins
Miller is the name most associated with these rumors and there are reasons why. Miller was the most productive back for the Dolphins last season, but they still took Jay Ajayi in the draft. It would make a ton of sense to try and move Miller in favor of Ajayi because they have similar styles and they will not be cutting Jay in the offseason. Right now is when Miller's trade value is at it's highest. His numbers are suggestive of a player that could really help fortify the position for Dallas:
At 24, Miller is still young and coming off a productive season. When watching him run, he's the type of "dirty-yards" player that Garrett appreciates. Who knows if Miller is a "bell-cow" back but he has tremendous upside and production to entice Dallas for a trade.
2. Tre Mason, 5'8 207 lbs, St. Louis Rams
Mason was selected with the 75th pick in the 2014 Draft, but he didn't play a down until after week four. He would replace Zac Stacy and go on to be the Rams leading rusher in the last 12 games of 2014. When Fisher was asked why he waited to let Mason play, he mentioned that "you can't throw in a back who doesn't know who to pick up." Mason apparently struggled with pass protection but once he got the opportunity, Stacy was forced to take a step back. So why would St. Louis trade Mason after a productive season? Well they just drafted the consensus best back in this year's crop, Todd Gurley. Mason's numbers were pretty good but he may be on the outs in St. Louis;
Gurley is a do-it-all back and though he will begin the season rehabbing, Mason's chances of keeping his job should look slimmer with this acquisition. Mason though is no back to scoff at, he was ranked 7th in SPARQ score last year and 5th taken in 2014's draft. He has a ton of ability and fits the mold of a workhorse type. If Dallas would like to replenish that type of player, Mason is surely worth the look.
3. Christine Michael, 5'10 220 lbs, Seattle Seahawks
Michael was 2013's SPARQ Champion with a pSPARQ score of 152.1. He's obviously superbly-athletic and has a great one-cut style that Dallas seems to like. Michael has a bit of an injury history and seems buried on his depth chart with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin ahead of him. Seattle tends to love their SPARQ players, as they should, given that they developed the metric with Nike. However, Dallas could probably pry him away with a mid-round pick. His numbers are limited but he hasn't had much opportunity:
Christine Michael is an athletic freak of a specimen and the Cowboys have shown to love their SPARQ players too. Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, and Mark Nzeocha all scored extremely high in terms of athleticism. Our friends at Field Gulls couldn't stop gushing over Michael;
"I can't really leave this section without raving about Christine Michael: relative to the 2014 class, he's one sigma from the mean in 40 time, bench press, and broad jump, two sigma in shuttle and three cone, and three sigma in vertical and 10-yard split."
"What does this mean? Well, Fun Fact To Know And Tell about CM: if you took each one of his test scores down (40 yard time increases, broad jump decreases, etc.) by a whole standard deviation his pSPARQ would be 130 (!!!), good for ninth-best (!!!) in the 2014 class (!!!!!). That is insane. I can't process it. It's impossible. There are not enough exclamation points in the world."
Christine Michael would be an interesting fit and would further their focus on getting some of the NFL best athletes on one roster.
4. Terrance West, 5'10 225 lbs, Cleveland Browns
West is a punisher but a patient runner all in the same breath. He has good vision and a deadly stiff-arm, dirty yards are his modus operandi, and he can really get going. He has the balance and agility to make defenders miss. With Isaiah Crowell and now Duke Johnson on the roster, West could be looking for a new home. Last season was a mixed bag for West, he started strong, struggled in the middle, and finished admirably. I'd love to see what his power, agility and patience could be behind Dallas' road graders:
West is a power runner that could hit the hole with a determined purpose to finish off the defense. He also has good hands and is an above average pass protector. Dallas may be looking to run-by-committee and West could fit on this roster.
5. Giovani Bernard, 5'9 208 lbs, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard has very quick feet and cam often make something out of nothing. This is the least likely trade scenario to happen, which is why I have it ranked fifth. Bernard is elusive, explosive, and even has great hands out of the backfield as well. He's had some injury concerns as well and got flat beat out by Jeremy Hill. It's hard to see the Bengals trading Bernard because of what he can bring as a backup or insurance policy. Bernard is the epitome of a runner that benefits from a RBBC approach:
Bernard is more than a change of pace back and he is better than Lance Dunbar and probably more trustworthy than Joseph Randle at this point. However, as mentioned previously, it doesn't seem likely that he would be traded.
For Dallas, the best possible trade scenario has to be for Lamar Miller. He just has everything you would look for in a running back and the most bang for the buck. What we don't know is what a given team is going to want for the commodity, but Broaddus has a hunch.
The Cowboys put such an emphasis on their rushing attack and it did wonders for the entire team in 2014. Of course, the front office would ideally like to see what they have first, but at least there are some pretty solid options available should Dallas sway that way.
So what would such a trade cost? That's anybody's guess, but the most recent trade for a running back saw Zac Stacy (5'9, 216) being shipped from the Rams to the Jets for a seventh-round pick. For perspective, here are Stacy's stat lines: