Will the Cowboys increase Ezekiel Elliott's workload in 2017?
With Alfred Morris still on the roster, the Cowboys are where they were last year at the running back position. It appears either Morris or Darren McFadden will become the odd-man out come the start of the season.
Morris’ salary, combined with his inability to play special teams, place him on the bubble.
The Cowboys put Morris on the trade block this offseason but thus far have not moved the five-year veteran. They believe Morris needs an offense that provides him with more carries than what the Cowboys give their backup running back.
Morris and McFadden combined for only 93 carries for 330 yards and no touchdowns last season as feature back Ezekiel Elliott had 322 carries and 32 receptions in 716 offensive snaps in the regular season. Quarterback Dak Prescott was the team’s second-leading rusher.
The Cowboys signed Morris to a two-year, $3.5 million deal in free agency last year before drafting Elliott. Morris is scheduled to make $1.2 million, while counting $2.14 million against the cap, which likely makes him expendable unless the Cowboys have an injury to Elliott or McFadden before the start of the season.
The Cowboys re-signed McFadden to a one-year deal that counts only $695,000 against the cap.
Morris might have had a new home before the start of last season after the Cowboys drafted Elliott, but McFadden fractured his right elbow on Memorial Day weekend and missed most of last season. That kept Morris as Elliott’s backup the first 13 games of last season, but he still played only 112 plays in those 13 games with only 61 carries. He was inactive for three of the last four games, including the postseason loss to the Packers.
“I will say this: You’d love for your third back, in a perfect world, to be a contributor on special teams,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “Obviously, [McFadden and Morris] are first- and second-down running backs for us, and they’re going to compete. They’re pros. We’re lucky to have them. You never know what tomorrow brings, and we’ll see what happens. A little bit they play similar roles in our offense, and you’d like for that third back to be able to contribute on special teams, whether it’s a [third-down] back or a third back who happens to be really good on special teams.”
The Cowboys did not draft a running back, with the Eagles taking San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey one spot before Dallas drafted No. 133 overall in the fourth round. But they drafted slot receiver Ryan Switzer, who could take over Lance Dunbar’s role as the third-down back.
“The discussion was had pretty in-depth that when we took Switzer that that relieves a little bit of that weapon [running back] role, in terms of having to have that type of guy,” Jones said. “If Switzer turns out to be what we think he can be, we [might] end up having a different look in the running back corps in terms of what we carry there.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say, ‘Hey, the Cowboys like to carry a Lance Dunbar type running back.’ It may be that we don’t do that this year since we have both Cole Beasley and Switzer.”
The Cowboys signed Temple running back Jahad Thomas as an undrafted rookie free agent and will have Lamar running back Kade Harrington as a tryout player at their rookie minicamp this weekend. Thomas had 2,599 yards and 30 touchdowns in his career, while Harrington had 4,348 yards, including 2,092 in 2015, and 44 touchdowns.