OTAs have wound down for the Dallas Cowboys, and we now have only the minicamp to look forward to before the long, dry spell leading up to training camp. With no real contract issues facing the team, there will not be a lot of new things to discuss. That means whatever topics are already around are going to be cussed and discussed to death. It is very likely that one of the top points of contention for Dallas fans is the idea of trading a couple of veterans, Darren McFadden and Ron Leary. But you should prepare yourself to wait on anything developing with either player. There is zero reason for the Cowboys to try and move them now, and a lot of reasons to wait. Both players represent depth that the team can ill afford to part with now, and they may well wind up becoming part of the plan for the coming season.
Leary has, of course, tried to persuade Dallas to trade him to a team where he can be a starter. All indications are that the team is planning on moving forward with La'el Collins as the starting left guard, relegating Leary to backup status. But for the Cowboys, he is far and away the best option if they need someone to step in due to that dreaded "I" word. It is arguable that he is the best backup guard in the league right now, with legitimate starting talent. While it is understandable that he would rather start in a contract year, he is due to make a little over $2.5 million this year. The logic of sitting out OTAs is questionable. He risks falling behind, and players who sit out practices and workouts incur an increased risk of injury when they do take the field. There is also the question of whether he has no chance of winning the starting job over Collins. While Collins had some real highlight moments as a rookie, he also still has a lot to learn about the job. And Leary lost his starting position due to injury, not to poor performance. He may have been better off showing up and showing he was going to fight the whole way to try and reclaim the number one spot. Now he is not only behind Collins in reps and conditioning, he looks a little like a malcontent.
Most importantly at this point, he could well become the starter for the same reason he lost the job. If something causes Collins or Zack Martin to have to sit out some of training camp (heaven forbid, of course), Leary could easily reclaim a starting job. And that should only increase his value as a free agent in 2017.
But despite all this, many feel the team should go ahead and shop Leary around, getting whatever they can for him.
The situation with McFadden is a bit different. He is the starter from last season, but because he does not perform as well in the zone blocking scheme Dallas prefers to run, he is already seen as behind both first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott and free agent acquisition Alfred Morris on the depth chart. McFadden is expected to be competing with sixth-round rookie Darius Jackson for the third running back spot, and Jackson brings value as a special teams resource that the veteran doesn't. With his injury history, McFadden is now seen as totally expendable and there are even more calls for the team to move him than for Leary.
The problem is that without McFadden, there is zero depth at running back. Change of pace back Lance Dunbar is recovering from injury and most expect him to start training camp on the PUP list, with no assurance he will be ready to go by the start of the regular season. Outside of Elliott, Morris, McFadden, Jackson, and Dunbar, the only other running back on the roster is Rod Smith, and he is reportedly being worked as a fullback. That means that the Cowboys look to enter training camp with four healthy running backs, which is barely enough to survive. A quick survey of other NFL rosters indicates that five backs is pretty much the minimum for this time of the offseason, and many teams have more. The Patriots have eight backs on their 90-man roster. The Broncos and Seahawks are carrying six. None of those teams has made the commitment to running the ball the Cowboys have. A team that is frequently mentioned as making a similar investment in the running game, the Titans, is carrying seven backs. Having four healthy players at a position that is certainly subject to injury due to its nature seems a bit risky. Trading one of those healthy players away before the start of camp would be downright foolish.
Some may counter that the Cowboys could easily sign another back off the street. After all, McFadden is proof that any back can thrive behind the Dallas offensive line, especially with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant both back to get the passing game on track. But those making this argument may want to remember Christine Michael and Robert Turbin, neither of whom were able to show much when given the opportunity last season. The only thing proven by McFadden's performance last year is that HE is an effective back even when the team is forced to move out of their zone scheme. And while Jackson looks like he is a better fit, he is also an unknown quantity who may or may not pan out once he starts lining up against NFL level talent.
This is not to say that either or both Leary and McFadden will not be traded before the start of the regular season. Once the final cut down to 53 gets closer, the team will have a much better idea of how likely they are to need them. And that is when the asking price can go up. As other teams face injury problems or just not finding answers with their own rosters, they will become more likely to part with more than just a sixth- or seventh-round pick. Leary looks like a case of someone who would not be released because of his value as a reserve, so the only way to get him would be through a trade. McFadden's status is less certain at this point, but a team may want to get him via trade with a known price tag rather than have to bid for his services if demand starts to mount for running backs as camps and preseason games take their toll. And that would only be worth it for Dallas if they don't need McFadden on the roster at that point.
But that time is a long way away. It will be late August before it makes any sense for the Cowboys to look at trading one of these proven veterans away, and they would have a good chance of getting more than they could now. In June, it just isn't in the cards.
Coaching staff said they can trade a running back when they pry them from their cold dead hands https://t.co/M1UAJ2vyNR— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) June 8, 2016