Sometimes, the best reaction to a personnel move in the NFL is simply slack-jawed disbelief at what we're seeing. Many times—especially on a national level—it comes in response to franchises that typically make these sorts of moves again and again, such as Washington, the Oakland Raiders or the Cleveland Browns.
The Dallas Cowboys have proved a lot of people wrong recently, as they've stayed patient and shrewd and earned a playoff appearance last season. So it was surprising when they elicited that reaction with a Friday signing of former Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden to a two-year deal worth $5.85 million. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Charean Williams first reported the deal, and ESPN's Todd Archer provided the terms.
Let's not overstate the move, though. This is not a replacement for DeMarco Murray, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, as the team tweeted Thursday. It isn't reasonable to believe that owner Jerry Jones or his son Stephen really believe their offensive line is that good that someone such as McFadden can duplicate Murray's production from last season.
Are the Cowboys a playoff team without DeMarco Murray?
No, McFadden is going to be part of the solution, which may also include troubled but talented Joseph Randle already on the roster, as well as additional signings and draft picks. This would not only align the Cowboys with trends already sweeping the NFL as teams go away from true lead backs but also keep them from a situation like they had with losing Murray this season.
The question is not whether a running back by committee is smart, because it unequivocally is. No, the question is whether there is any logical, feasible or sensible reason that McFadden is the guy the Cowboys reached out to almost immediately upon losing Murray, as NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported, to be part of that committee.
As Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports noted, McFadden hasn't exactly lived up to his pre-draft hype since joining the Oakland Raiders seven years ago.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys get McFadden, a chronic underachiever during his seven years in Oakland. Some of that is a function of playing for some terrible teams, but some of that is on McFadden, who has averaged 3.3 yards per carry the last three seasons, and surpassed 1,000 rushing yards just once since coming into the league in 2008.
There is no reason, unless you're Jerry Jones.
The former Arkansas Razorback was a co-captain of the 1964 national championship team for his and McFadden's alma mater, and Jones has long been a mega-booster for the school's athletic teams. He's also publicly coveted former Razorback players in the NFL and talked them up even when he hasn't been able to land them.
Darren McFadden, who grew up a Cowboys fan, talking about Jerry Jones before the 2008 draft: pic.twitter.com/dR3bDG2fhK— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) March 13, 2015
When McFadden went No. 4 overall to the Raiders in the 2008 NFL draft, Jones consoled himself with McFadden's running mate, Felix Jones, who lasted all of five years in Dallas before leaving the NFL for good in 2013.
McFadden only makes sense as a low-risk signing if one doesn't take a look at the other running backs listed on the market. Sure, new Saints acquisition C.J. Spiller, as ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported, might have been a higher-caliber back (and thus at a higher price tag) than the Cowboys were interested in, but that doesn't change the fact that Stevan Ridley, Knowshon Moreno and Pierre Thomas are all still on the market and are better backs than McFadden.
ESPN/Pro Football Focus
At McFadden's best—at his absolute best—he's never been a suitable replacement for Murray, but (again) that's not the point here. The point is that this move makes zero sense unless one knows the words of the Arkansas fight song by heart, or one is completely unaware of the current landscape of the NFL running back market.
Not to mention: In the deepest running back draft class we've seen in a while, Jones and Co. could've spent multiple picks on mid-round backs that offer far more than McFadden.
I will admit that the Cowboys have proved us wrong before. Their drafts have been stellar in recent years, adding linemen such as center Travis Frederick when others had him rated lower on their boards and being exceedingly patient with current staff and personnel as they've looked to build the playoff team we saw last season.
This move isn't high-risk, but it's not high-reward either.
This move just strains credibility. It's not the sort of back-of-roster padding that a back the caliber of McFadden deserves at this stage of his career, and it reeks of desperation thanks to the timing of the signing and the fervor with which the Cowboys reached out to McFadden.
It's just not a move that makes any sense.