With recent news that Ezekiel Elliott could be facing a possible one- or two-game suspension over domestic violence allegations, Cowboys Nation has been advised to brace itself. I’m bracing. Have you been bracing?
The details of this ordeal aren't something that warrant a lot of discussion because they are laced with speculation. What we know is that there is an ongoing investigation and the NFL is still trying to sort out the facts. There’s a lot of he said, she said going on and that will continue until evidence surfaces that points definitively in one direction or another. A lot of fans thought that had occurred when it was reported that Elliott had saved text messages supposedly proving his ex-girlfriend was trying to set him up.
High-ranking #Cowboys source says that Ezekiel Elliott has messages saved on his phone proving his ex-girlfriend is trying to set him up.— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) July 22, 2016
Per a source, Elliott broke off the relationship and alleged victim said she would ruin him if he did. Thus the accusations— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) July 22, 2016
Messages of this nature don’t paint a good picture for the accuser, but that alone doesn’t mean that there isn’t other evidence out there against Zeke. It sure has been made to appear that something else is in play. Fans don’t want to believe that and right now there isn’t anything on the table to believe. So we wait.
And then there are those that will say there was no arrest made, so why is the NFL continuing to push this? Whether criminal charges were made or not, is there something that happened where Elliott’s actions violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy?
Conduct by anyone in the league that is illegal, violent, dangerous, or irresponsible puts innocent victims at risk, damages the reputation of others in the game, and undercuts public respect and support for the NFL. We must endeavor at all times to be people of high character; we must show respect for others inside and outside our workplace; and we must strive to conduct ourselves in ways that favorably reflect on ourselves, our teams, the communities we represent, and the NFL.
All these things will reveal themselves eventually, but if we are to heed the advice and brace ourselves for a possible suspension, what does that mean for this Cowboys team if they are without Zeke? Currently, they have both Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris under contract for next season. Does a potential suspension further solidify their spot on the roster?
Let’s take a look at these two and see what each of them have to offer (stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference).
The case for McFadden: The coaches love McFadden. They essentially ate his 2016 base salary cap hit even though his games missed to injury would offer them very little contribution.
He ran for over 1,000 yards a couple years ago once he was handed the reigns as the team's lead running back, but only started 10 games that season. He’s proven he can be effective in this scheme, despite the offense missing key offensive stars in 2015. McFadden also is effective in the passing game, something he has done his whole career.
The case against McFadden: He gets hurt. He’s had a career filled with injuries. While 2015 was great, many fans cringed whenever he was tackled hard. You really don’t want your running game to depend on McFadden’s ability to stay healthy. Sure, it’s such a small time to have to rely on him, but any time he finishes a game feels like a bonus.
He’s appears to have lost some of his speed too. Not that Morris is a blazer, but speed is not the advantage it once was for McFadden. It was such a nice sight watching Zeke never get caught from behind. McFadden will get caught.
The case for Alfred Morris: The Cowboys brought in Morris to add depth to the position so they could draft as pure as possible in 2016. When the team ended up selecting Elliott with the fourth overall pick, Morris' role would be severely diminished. Early on, Morris ran the ball well and looked like a great fit in this offense. His ability to “get skinny” helped him slide right through the lanes and make some nice runs.
Morris is a player that does well in a bell-cow role. He gets better as the game goes on as he finds his rhythm. His three straight 1,000 yards seasons weren’t a fluke. He didn’t suffer some game-altering injury that has effected his performance. In fact, he’s the anti-McFadden when it comes to durability. The guy is always available.
The case against Alfred Morris: His production continues to decline and it’s not just the volume stats. His yards per carry have been on a steady decline ever since his rookie season. Is it possible he just doesn’t have it anymore? While he looked good early on, down the stretch he started looking like the running back that Washington had no desire to re-sign.
Prediction: McFadden would win my vote as the RB to spell Elliott on a series or two a game, but if the Cowboys need a 20+ carry player, Morris is the guy. The Cowboys can contract out someone else for third-down duties, but they need a workhorse like Morris to drive the running game.
The good news is that if the Cowboys are without Zeke for a couple games, they have options. And between Morris and McFadden, someone is going to work. Should the Cowboys be without Elliott for a couple games and struggle early, it would just be a bump in the road. We’ve seen this kind of thing before.
Who would you rather have at running back for the Cowboys if Zeke is unavailable?
This poll is closed