Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has had to make some tough choices over the past 22 months while cleaning up the team’s payroll mess. Now he faces an even more difficult decision: whether or not to trade running back Darren McFadden.
A few years ago, that kind of talk would have been considered blasphemy by many fans. Now it’s something the Raiders need to consider seriously as next week’s trade deadline approaches.
McFadden is in the final year of his contract and is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season. While there had been minor discussions between the team and its star running back about a possible extension, nothing firm ever developed.
The hope on both sides was that McFadden would return to the form he had in 2010 when he rushed for 1,157 yards and was considered one of the top running backs in the league.
Instead, another injury and five games of mostly disappointing runs have pushed McFadden into the expendable category.
He has just one 100-yard game this season, and it came against the lowly and winless Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2. Beyond that, McFadden hasn’t produced much at all.
The fourth overall draft pick in 2008 isn’t even the Raiders’ leading rusher. That honor belongs to quarterback Terrelle Pryor, whose 289 yards rushing are 22 more than McFadden has.
A quick look at McFadden’s stats reveals just how rough a season the 26-year-old running back has had.
Of his 267 yards on the ground, nearly half (108) came on four carries against Jacksonville. McFadden has also carried the ball 69 times but has been held to two yards or fewer on 40 of them, or 58 percent of the time.
To be fair, it hasn’t been all McFadden’s fault.
Oakland’s offensive line is a mess. In the Week 6 loss to Kansas City, only one of the projected starters at the beginning of training camp was still in the same position and healthy enough to get on the field.
The Raiders have also changed blocking schemes no fewer than four times during McFadden’s five-plus seasons in the NFL, which would be tough for any player to get accustomed to.
Then there are the injuries.
McFadden has yet to play a full 16-game schedule. He has missed 24 of 86 games since entering the NFL, including Oakland’s win over San Diego earlier this year, when a hamstring injury put him on the shelf.
That doesn’t exactly equate to being a star player on any team.
The question for McKenzie now becomes whether to trade McFadden and try to get one or two mid-round draft picks in return, keep him and run the risk of losing him to free agency without any compensation or offer the running back a new deal.
Cowboys are $2.2M under the cap. Darren McFadden is due over $3M in base salary over the 9 weeks after the trade deadline— Brian McIntyre (@brian_mcintyre) October 20, 2013
Options two and three make no sense at all for a team still very much in the rebuilding stage, which is why the GM and his staff need to seriously consider putting McFadden on the trade blocks.
Teams have until next Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 4 p.m. EDT to make trades. As of yet, McFadden’s name hasn’t been dangled as possible trade bait, but there is still plenty of time left to get a deal done.
McKenzie has to be realistic, too. McFadden’s history of injuries—coupled with his lack of success this season—means the market will be relatively slow if the Raiders do indeed try to trade him.
At best, McFadden will garner a third- or fourth-round pick. He has 13 100-yard games in his career, but six of them came in 2010 when he had his only 1,000-yard season.
McKenzie might also be able to get a lower-round pick thrown into the deal, though in this case beggars can’t be choosers.
There are several teams in the market for a running back, too. Tampa Bay lost starter Doug Martin to a shoulder injury. Baltimore is looking for some depth behind Ray Rice. Pittsburgh, St. Louis and the New York Giants are also in need of upgrading their respective running games.
The problem with trading a player of McFadden’s talent is that there is always the possibility of him turning things around with a new team. How bad would McKenzie look, and how angry would Raiders’ fans be, if McFadden was shipped out of town and began running like he did three years ago?
McFadden is also a strong presence in Oakland’s locker room, a player very popular among his teammates. A trade wouldn’t necessarily cause much of an uproar but it would disrupt the team chemistry.
Trading McFadden now would also be a sign that the Raiders have cashed in their chips on the 2013 season and are planning for 2014.
McKenzie needs to weigh all of this, which he assuredly will. His decision, however, is anything but certain at this point.
He’s got five days to figure it out.