Last year proved that any runner with some talent and health could have success behind the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. Darren McFadden rushed for just under 1,100 yards despite taken over the starting position seven weeks into the season. Coming from an injury-riddled tenure with the Oakland Raiders, McFadden came into his own in Dallas even though he wasn't entirely suited for the scheme the Cowboys wanted to run. Because of McFadden's struggles in the zone-blocking scheme, the Cowboys used more of a man-blocking scheme to tailor their offense to McFadden's strengths and it paid off big time.
Unfortunately, McFadden's injury history is worrisome and he'll also be 30 years old after the 2016 season. Because of that, the Cowboys signed Alfred Morris to pair with McFadden. Morris not only has less wear-and-tear on his treads, but he also is a better schematic fit for the zone. At first glance, the combination of Morris and McFadden sprinkled in with Lance Dunbar playing a change-of-pace role, would have signaled that the Cowboys would steer clear of selecting a running back at the top of the draft.
Then draft night rolled around and the Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott. And while the coaches may say otherwise, Elliott is going to be the starter out of this group come September, barring any injury. But then they also double-dipped at the position in the sixth round by adding Darius Jackson out of Eastern Michigan. This pick may have surprised some people, but think back to the 1991 NFL Draft when the Cowboys selected Curvin Richards just one year after drafting Emmitt Smith. That leaves the Cowboys with five running backs, even though Dunbar will likely start the year on the PUP.
With Elliott going nowhere, Morris just getting signed, and Dunbar likely starting the year on the PUP, the battle will likely come down to McFadden and Jackson. This all seems a little unfair given how productive McFadden was in 2015 despite not playing with many talented options around him. However, like any sport, the NFL is a business and this team has too many "players worth grooming" for them to give four roster spots to the running back position.
Personally, I don't mind if McFadden stays on the roster or if the team trades him. He's a valuable commodity in the locker room and he can play somewhat of a mentor role for Elliott. Dallas loves its "Right Kinda Guys" players and McFadden is just that. But if the Cowboys do decide to trade McFadden, they could definitely pick up some compensation for him. However, each team that is interested is going to voice their concerns over the same things: he's aging, his injury history is not great, and he may not be able to get the same production running behind an offensive line that is not the Cowboys'. These things are all true, but he could still warrant a late-round draft pick or perhaps even a depth piece.
The problem with trading McFadden is as simple as this. Let's all knock on wood before reading this, but let's just say Elliott does go down with injury and the Cowboys don't feel comfortable giving the spell role to Jackson, relying on Morris to run the football 20+ times a game is asking a lot out of a player who carried the football at least 20 times just twice last season.
Similar to the situation with Ronald Leary, the Cowboys could very well get something in return for both Leary and McFadden. But the fact of the matter is that both Leay and McFadden provide good insurance to the Cowboys. For a team to pry McFadden away from the Cowboys, the offer in place will need to be greatly in Dallas' favor.
And with all things considered, there are a ton of running backs in this league that are talented, yet still haven't been given that chance. McFadden can still carve out a role in the NFL with many times, but teams in the market for a running back may choose to go with a younger alternative rather than a guy like McFadden with all of the question marks above.
The NFL is a business and while many may believe that the Cowboys should just trade McFadden, it's much easier said than done in this case. As OTAs progress and training camp nears, injuries to other running backs around the league will unfortunately happen, making those teams look for a running back.
Dallas has a handful of talented players tied into one position that really only needs a couple of players. If McFadden does leave the roster, there will definitely be a market of teams interested in trading for him. But it also makes sense to keep McFadden on the roster, given his leadership traits as well as the success he's had in Dallas in spite of taking carries from Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore. It's up in the air what will happen to McFadden, but it is definitely a top storyline to monitor as the offseason goes on and the regular season nears.