The construction of the Free Agent Big Board is in progress. So far, we've looked at:
Now, it is time to take a look at the running back position. To start things off, we will see what we can learn from last off-season. Here are the top 20 free agent running backs last year, the amount they signed for, and how they performed in 2015 (grades courtesy of Walter Football, stats courtesy of ESPN):
It should come as no surprise that the Cowboys made the right choice when it came to selecting their free agent running back. Despite only starting 10 games, Darren McFadden finished 4th in the NFL in rushing. Not only did he outperform every free agent running back on this list, he did so at a bargain price. Five of the top seven free agents did okay, but not when you consider their cost. Of course as the top dogs went off the board, it became more difficult to land a good one. The Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers came out looking like geniuses.
Last year, the big question was - how much of the Cowboys success in the running game was DeMarco Murray and how much was the offensive line? Well, that question has been answered. Murray is a good running back, but if the Cowboys offensive line can make McFadden look good, that's got to make fans feel good. The front office remained content all year about their running back situation and for good reason. Despite losing three of the four RBs that made the opening day roster (Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, and Christine Michael) for different reasons, the Cowboys still had one left and he was able to do the job.
Bottom line - it's just not necessary to throw a lot of money at running back when so many viable options are dirt cheap.
So if the Cowboys want to dabble in free agency at the running back position this off-season, what type of talent are we looking at for 2016? (grades from Walter Football)
Lamar Miller and Doug Martin
Last year, DeMarco Murray was the standout free agent running back. This year, there are two premiere backs to choose from - Lamar Miller and Doug Martin. Cowboys' fans have expressed interest in Miller for a while now. He's young and has put up solid numbers over the last three seasons as he's started 47 out of 48 games for the Miami Dolphins. With a career 4.6 yards per carry, the only real question about Miller is how come he doesn't get the ball more often? That wouldn't be a problem with the Cowboys. With more touches and the best offensive line in football to run behind, Miller has the potential to put up 1,500+ yards in Dallas.
The Muscle Hamster, Doug Martin, is an interesting choice. He has two, 1,400+ seasons wrapped around two seasons where he rushed for less than 500 yards. Granted, he was injured in 2013 and 2014, but that in itself is concerning. He's flashed some great skills and his upside is great, but missing 15 games over the last three seasons definitely brings about the red flags.
Prediction: The Cowboys just don't feel the need to spend much money on a running back, especially with a crop of new, fresh legs coming out in the draft. The Cowboys had a max price for DeMarco and it's possibly they could extend a similar offer for someone like Miller. But it's a longshot when the money could go elsewhere.
Powell hasn't had a lot of opportunity to showcase his ability as he has been mostly utilized as a change-of-pace/third-down back. Last season with the New York Jets, he backed up Chris Ivory. Even though Ivory had the best year of his career, Powell's play down the stretch took touches away from him. He's a more skillful version of Lance Dunbar and could be a nice complement to McFadden. With Powell's ability to catch passes, he would be a nice weapon for Tony Romo. The kid's got some good quickness (video), and while teams look more for a lead back, Powell could be an economical choice for the Cowboys.
Prediction: The Cowboys saw first-hand how this type of dynamic running back can bolster the offense. If the Cowboys don't resign Dunbar, Powell would be a great alternative.
The Dallas Cowboys finally discovered how to use Dunbar last season. He only had five carries, however he made good use of them rushing for 67 yards. But Dunbar's real value came in the passing game. In just the first four games, he had accrued 215 yards on 21 catches. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, those four games would be the only games he would play as his season would come to an abrupt end with a knee injury.
Dunbar is a local boy as he played both his high school and college years in Texas. Everyone loves him. Of course, it's hard to love him when he's not on the field. Dunbar has missed 23 games over his four-year career and that even includes staying healthy the entire 2014, which he was able to do because the Cowboys essentially gave every touch to DeMarco Murray.
Prediction: The Cowboys know what they have in Lance and it's explosive, but his injury issues will be lingering in the back of their mind. For the right price, the team should welcome him back.
There are two things to like about Blount. First, the New England Patriots keep bringing him back to their team. That's never a bad thing when your former team still wants you. Second, he makes defenders miss. He had 165 carries last season and forced 34 missed tackles. Blount is a bruiser and could be very useful in short yardage situations, something the Cowboys struggled with a bit last season. He did a good with the role he was given with the Patriots. If he joined the Cowboys, he would get the short end of the committee work and that would be something he is perfectly capable of.
After all the good free agents have been taken, Blount has usually been left out in the cold. His price should now be higher than the bargain $865,000 that the Patriots got him for, but if he gets passed up on again, the Cowboys could make a value signing.
Prediction: The Cowboys found success in the running game by stacking up some viable option. Blount falls into that group. For a good price, he could be nice addition.
Which free agent running backs do you think the Cowboys should target?