IRVING, Texas – Fresh off the departure of DeMarco Murray, it seemed like a no-brainer that the Cowboys would draft a running back last spring.
Of course, few would have predicted that Randy Gregory would plummet to the 60th overall selection, or that La'el Collins would sign on as an undrafted free agent. For one reason or another, the coveted young running back never materialized.
"I think that we really were surprised that we didn't have the younger back coming out of the draft last year," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones at the NFL Combine last week. "We had a plan and somebody else took him."
It's only fair to give the Cowboys their due, though. They didn't do much to address the hole Murray left in their offense – they signed the inexpensive Darren McFadden, and they rolled with two in-house products in Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. Despite plenty of ups and downs along the way, their running game churned out a fairly productive season.
"While I know we were all concerned by not having Murray, when we got down to kickoff last year and went to training camp, I think that -- apart from not winning the kinds of games we wanted to win -- we addressed the running back situation a lot more satisfactory than most people thought we had," Jones said.
One year later, the situation is just as murky – if not more so – than it was last spring. Joseph Randle was dismissed from the roster for a litany of off-field concerns, and Lance Dunbar is in the middle of a lengthy rehab on his torn ACL and MCL.
McFadden is one of just two running backs currently under contract with the Cowboys. The other is Rod Smith, who didn't take a carry with the team after signing from Seattle last fall.
It'll be interesting to see what that means, especially with free agency opening next week. Before they even get to the draft, the Cowboys will have an opportunity to look at recently-released veterans like Matt Forte and Arian Foster – not to mention impending free agents like Lamar Miller and Doug Martin.
Asked about that fact last week, Jones made it sound as if he wants to get younger, though it's hard to predict anything with certainty.
"Yeah, I'd say that probably with McFadden and with the option of getting a less tested, but younger back in the draft, that's probably a little hard for me to see right now," he said about free agency. "Don't rule it out, but that's hard to see."
The upshot seems obvious. Whether via free agency, like last year, or the 2016 NFL Draft, the Cowboys need to add some depth at running back. The only question is how they'll get it.
"We can have the same plan and more than likely we would have, in most years past, we'll get a chance to get a young running back through the draft," Jones said. "There'll be some veteran free agents out here that probably deserve a look. We'll do that again, and I feel good about that. I feel better about our ability to get feeling good about running back than I do about some of the challenges that we've got on defense right now."