Once upon a time the Dallas Cowboys reportedly had some big eyes for Darren McFadden. Well not really the Cowboys so much as Arkansas alum, Jerry Jones.
This was all the way back in the 2008 NFL Draft (where McFadden went fourth overall to Oakland), a vision seven years in the making as DMC ultimately became a Cowboy in 2015 after the departure of DeMarco Murray.
Despite Joseph Randle being the chosen starter when the season began, Darren McFadden became the team’s primary running back in their sixth game. Impressively, he finished fourth in the NFL in rushing.
The next part of the story is one you know well. The Cowboys draft their own running back with the fourth overall pick in Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden injures his elbow, and Zeke begins the campaign that sees him earn the rushing title.
That elbow injury was interesting looking back. Originally believed to be the result of him trying to save his cellphone from falling in the pool, the hurt elbow caused Darren McFadden to miss serious time in 2016.
McFadden was active for only five games in 2016: at Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Detroit, at Philadelphia, and the playoff loss to Green Bay. It was then that things got really weird.
Over the course of last offseason there was admitted speculation about what would happen with Ezekiel Elliott and a potential suspension (another ordeal in and of itself). The Cowboys brought McFadden back on a one-year deal, which made enormous sense as an insurance policy of sorts.
Elliott’s fight with the NFL stretched well into the 2017 season for the Cowboys, and with every moment of him not being suspended Darren McFadden continued to find himself inactive on gameday.
Many chalked the non-suiting up of McFadden to the Cowboys being overly cautious. They were just acting like geniuses, right? They were keeping DMC fresh in the event that Elliott ultimately had to serve his suspension, so that they could drop him in and run the rock circa 2015.
This made sense for all but 10 minutes. Darren McFadden was active in the first game sans Elliott, a contest in Atlanta, but he only carried the ball once and lost two yards.
Since then, in losses to Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Darren McFadden was still inactive... despite Elliott not being on the field either. The Cowboys intentionally, willfully, and consciously chose to roll with only Alfred Morris and Rod Smith active.
The Cowboys explained this as a matter of special teams usage and that Darren likely wouldn’t see many snaps if active, which makes sense in theory; however, why did they carry him on their roster then?
Any third running back on an NFL team plays special teams. Why did the Cowboys keep Darren McFadden around just to not play special teams and hang out for no reason?
It was curious at best, but it’s at least come to an end as of Sunday morning as the Cowboys officially waived McFadden. He tweeted a note of thanks, keeping things classy all the way till the end.
Just want to say Thank You to the @dallascowboys. I grew up a Cowboys fan and it was awesome to wear the Star on my helmet. I wish my boys good luck.— Darren McFadden (@dmcfadden20) November 26, 2017
The simple truth is that it made no sense for the Cowboys to continue to keep an inactive Darren McFadden on the roster in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence. Releasing McFadden makes enormous sense, but it took the Cowboys two full games to make that decision.