FA Series: Backup RB Spot Likely Needed Behind Murray

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IRVING, Texas – With free agency beginning on March 12, the Cowboys have several decisions to make regarding the improvement of this team.

Last year, they were extremely aggressive in free agency, signing seven players, including Brandon Carr, Kyle Orton and Dan Connor in the first two days of the signing period.

Don't expect that kind of frenzy this year. In fact, it could be rather slow depending on how much cap room the Cowboys have by March 12.

But over the next week, all three DallasCowboys.com staff writers will help break down five different positions that could be intriguing for the Cowboys in free agency.

Today, we'll continue with running back.

What They Have:

For the first time in a while, the Cowboys will likely enter a draft with a specific need at running back. Now they did draft DeMarco Murray in 2011 in the third round, but it was more of a surprising pick. After two years, Murray has basically been everything as advertised. He's been explosive at times. He's been a power back, too. And he's had all of the injuries, if not more, that skeptics warned teams about before the draft. Labeled as injury prone, Murray has missed nine games in two years, including six last year with a sprained foot. Still, he'll be the No. 1 back heading into camp. It's hard to fathom the Cowboys will sign a free agent or draft a player who can legitimately compete for the starting job. Then again, with Murray's injuries, the Cowboys need to get a player who could possibly handle the load if needed. Felix Jones is headed for


unrestricted free agency and it's unlikely he will return to the Cowboys in 2013. Behind him, Lance Dunbar got a few reps at the end of the year as the Cowboys' third-down back. Dunbar has some explosive speed that is unmatched with the current crop of backs. Phillip Tanner took a step backwards last year after a promising rookie year. He did get a few chances and didn't make the most of his opportunity. With a new running back coach in Gary Brown, the slate should be wiped clean for Tanner and Dunbar, as well as Murray.

-       *Nick Eatman *

Who's Out There:

There's a ton to choose from in the market this offseason, so the Cowboys will have to decide if they'd rather spend some money on a proven backup or take a chance on a younger player in the draft. They could try to retain Felix Jones, but he's among a bevy of backs that will be available in free agency. Steven Jackson may be nearing the end of his career, but he just finished his eighth straight season with at least 1,000 yards. He's still a workhorse back capable of taking on a full-time role at any point. If the Cowboys elect to use free agency to fill the void at running back, it would make sense to bring in a back capable of handling a full workload at any point, considering DeMarco Murray's injury history. Other available backs who could handle a starting role include Ahmad Bradshaw, Reggie Bush and Shonn Greene, who never really panned out the way the Jets had hoped he would. Cedric Benson, Rashard Mendenhall, Peyton Hillis and Rashad Jennings are all coming off shortened seasons, but have demonstrated an ability to help their former teams when healthy, as well. If the Cowboys are interested in power, they could look to Michael Turner or Brandon Jacobs.

  • *Rowan Kavner *

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What They'll Do:

With all that has gone on with the shuffling of the roster, here is a position not many have given much consideration to. In my view with all the bad luck that DeMarco Murray has had with injuries in his first two seasons, you better have a running back that can shoulder that load when he is not in the lineup. As much as we all want to throw this offensive line under the bus for the lack of a running game, make sure you take a hard look at who was carrying the ball in those situations as well. I am not giving the line a pass here but with Murray in the lineup, at least they had a better chance at success. Felix Jones is an unrestricted free agent and, like Martellus Bennett before him, will seek employment elsewhere which in my mind is not a bad thing. I hate that Phillip Tanner was taken out of the third down duties and later off special teams so that could tell you a great deal what the front office and coaches feel about him going forward. Lance Dunbar showed flashes of his ability as a COP (change of pace) back. He played a larger role on special teams than Tanner which under my eye means he will most likely continue that role, but does he have a future if something happened to [embedded_ad]

Murray? I don't think so, which leads to the decision of drafting, say, an every down back like Andre Ellington, Jonathan Franklin, Montee Ball or Stepfan Taylor. In free agency there are impressive names to run through like Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush, Ahmad Bradshaw and Rashard Mendenhall but this is my thought on these running backs – always try and keep them young. The problem with these veteran running backs is their shelf life is not all that long and they are getting to the point in their careers where they want to get paid even though they are available for free agency or on the street. Another consideration for the club going forward is what kind of scheme will they use this fall? If they go with a gap power scheme, they will need a bigger back to shoulder that load, or if they go with a zone scheme then maybe you can get away with a smaller, quicker back. The last thing this front office wants to do is spend money on a back that doesn't fit the type of scheme they are going to run. My gut feeling now is that they will look at the draft and the players available there to get that back to fit the scheme. Bryan Broaddus

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