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Cowboys Running Backs: Using Free Agency Versus The Draft To Fill A Hole

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's pretty much a given that the Cowboys will add at least one running back to their roster for the 2016 season. Darren McFadden is the incumbent and had a very good season in 2015, but he is getting older and he has an injury-filled history. Counting on him for the full load like the Cowboys did at the end of last year is probably not the safest bet. So Dallas needs at least one complementary back to help with the load. They could still re-sign Lance Dunbar who proved to be a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, but he doesn't fit the role of an every-down back.

The question Dallas faces is whether to go for a back in the draft or acquire one through free agency. Using free agency you get a proven veteran, someone who is a known-quantity playing against NFL-level talent. But you also get a guy with tread worn off the tires and who could cost some cash. Conversely, a draft pick is young with fresh legs and can be inexpensive, but he is an unknown against NFL defenses. That is true across the NFL.

Current RB Free Agents

So just how much of a cap hit would some of the current running backs cost the Cowboys. A Cowboys fan-favorite is Lamar Miller from the Dolphins. we already have an idea of what he's looking for, or more accurately we know what he's not taking so far.

The Dolphins continue to work on resigning Lamar Miller, but the question is whether Miami will agree to give him more than $5 million per season, or whether he would settle for $5 million or slightly less.

Miller is considered one of the best candidates because he is young, talented and hasn't been worn out by the Dolphins yet. But we're at a starting point of $5 million and he hasn't even gotten into the bidding process from other teams. We can only imagine that number will go up.

Doug Martin from the Bucs is also another name thrown around. He could be looking for DeMarco Murray-type numbers according to the local Tampa Bay press.

But the two sides aren't really that close in reaching an agreement. There's no reason to think Martin shouldn't ask for DeMarco Murray money. The league's leading rusher in 2014 got $8 million per year from the Eagles to leave the Cowboys.

He may not get $8 million, but we're certainly talking in the same range as Miller. You could also look at a guy like Matt Forte, someone who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, but he's getting to that point where his age is a huge liability. Plus, he's carried the ball a ton and caught a ton of passes, his tires have got to be running low on tread. Even then, it might be somewhat costly.

Hard to say right now what the market will be like for the 30-year-old Forte but one source thought he’d be hard pressed to get more than $3 million per season. We’ll see.

I actually think that's too low for Forte. Spotrac has him at an unreasonable $7.4 million, somewhere in between those two numbers probably makes more sense. But you get the idea, a free agent running back is going to cost somewhere in the range of $4-6 million. Plus you're still paying Darren McFadden $1.5 million for 2016.

Draft RB Cost

If you go the draft route, there are two distinct options. If you use the number four pick on Ezekiel Elliot then you're going to pay a lot. Last year's No. 4 overall pick Amari Cooper signed a rookie four-year deal worth $22.7 million, all of which was guaranteed. This year's No. 4 pick will make around $25 million for four years, an average of about $6.2 million, though the cap hit in the first year will likely be around $4.5 million.

That first-year cap-hit is roughly the same of what you might get a second-tier veteran at, maybe a Chris Ivory or maybe a Forte. But if the Cowboys wait until the second round, the cap hit is a little over $1 million, and it drops more as you hit the third and fourth round.

It's possible Derrick Henry could be available in the second for the Cowboys, maybe a Devontae Booker or Kenneth Dixon in the third round. Further down you have prospects like C.J. Prosise and Paul Perkins.

For me, I can't see the Cowboys making the move for a free agent running back, unless they pick up someone very cheaply like they did with McFadden. Would you rather have Lamar Miller at say $6 million a year or have Derrick Henry at $1 million and add that other $5 million to other money in an attempt to land a pass rusher?