Editor's Note: The Cowboys currently have 20 players slated to enter free agency when the league year begins in March. Some of those players are key contributors, while others are role players. In this series, Bryan Broaddus will take a look at all 20 free agents, assessing how they performed in 2015 and how they might fit into the Cowboys' future.
IRVING, Texas – Darren McFadden's breakthrough performance was one of the few silver linings of the Cowboys' 2015 season. In just 11 starts, he racked up 1,089 yards and five separate 100-yard rushing efforts.
As rock-solid as McFadden was in the starter's role, it's amazing how little depth there is behind him. Lance Dunbar tore his ACL and MCL in early October, and Joseph Randle was released a few weeks later. Christine Michael is also gone after a brief stint with the team. Robert Turbin played admirably in spot duty as a mid-season backup, but he is now slated to enter free agency.
As it stands right now, McFadden and little-used reserve back Rod Smith are the only running backs under contract for 2016. That's where we start our final free agency preview, as we look at the free agent options in the offensive backfield.
Let's take a look:
2015 Performance:Turbin played in seven games this season with limited success. He was never able to show enough where the coaching staff felt that he deserved more of an opportunity than Darren McFadden. He ran with physical toughness but not with much creativity. Showed nice upper and lower body power and strength. He was not much with the ball in his hands -- would break an initial tackle but his lack of a burst or quickness held him back at times. He was by no means a home run back, and he is not the type of back that is going to have the vision and patience carrying the ball. Struggled as a pass blocker not because of effort but more technique. Limited help as a receiver as well.
2016: Forecast:Filled a role as a dependable backup to Darren McFadden. Never showed the traits to be that every down player. Career has taken that path and likely will continue that way. Could see front office going in a different direction looking for a more complete player.
2015 Performance:What was once a promising start ended in an unfortunate injury. Lance Dunbar was well on his way to having the type of season that Jerry Jones said we'd see before the opening of training camp. Jones wondered out loud why Dunbar wasn't used more in the game plans, which caused Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan to find him more opportunities. Dunbar is especially skilled in the passing game and the coaches took advantage of that. He is a mismatch player on the outside and when the club decided to use their no back attack. His quickness and receiving ability make him a weapon. You could see in camp that he was working on becoming a more complete back. Shows a ton of promise on special teams as well as a cover man.
2016: Forecast:Jerry Jones was correct in his evaluation of Lance Dunbar and what he could bring to the roster. If there is a problem with Dunbar it is his durability, especially when it comes to offensive snaps --so that is always in the back of your mind. There is no question of what he brings to the roster, but when looking at the long term of the player it's hard to invest substantial resources in that direction with the continued uncertainty. I believe that we will see Dunbar receive a one-year offer in order to secure the player but also protect the club.
2015 Performance: Cassel was traded for in order to provide some stability to the quarterback position once Tony Romo was lost for the majority of the season. I have to say I was surprised that he didn't play better. I was expecting better accuracy and the ball going down the field. I was expecting more offensive production, which would have resulted in more points. Cassel was never able to generate any form of offensive success. There were missed opportunities with open receivers and too many games with fatal mistakes. The bottom line is that he just wasn't good enough and was not up to the task in winning games. It was a failed trade.
2016: Forecast:Kellen Moore is a better option as a backup quarterback at this point and under no circumstances would I consider bringing Cassel back. Cassel showed me that he does not have what it takes to be productive in this offense and they need to move on from him.
Tyler CluttsHeight: 6-2
2015 Performance:One of the great mysteries of this Dallas offense is why there continues to be a role for Tyler Clutts. I know this for a fact: the coaches like him better than I do. I am sure they see him reading and recognizing the defensive front and working his way to the right man. I would agree with that assessment, but where I do not agree is with his finish. There were far too many snaps where he was either in the hole or on the edge where he wasn't playing with leverage and a good base. He was a one-shot blocker and then he would lose sustain. He just wasn't consistent enough clearing a path and that was his responsibility. He got in the way more than he finished. They talk about him as a special teams player and to be quite honest – he is just average at that.[embeddedad0]
2016: Forecast:There is no question that the fullback position is a difficult one to fill, especially with the way that these college offenses are now spreading people out. I believe that Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan want to continue to play with one in this scheme, but there needs to be a continued evaluation of the position and some potentially other options than what they are currently working with.