In one of the more surprising moves of the first day of free agency, the Oakland Raiders elected to keep running back Darren McFadden in the fold, signing the former top-five draft pick to a one-year and $4 million contract.
For his part, McFadden seemed pleased to maintain his status as a Raider:
From McFadden’s point of view, he likely felt something of an obligation to the team that drafted him. He hinted at such in comments he made after returning from injury late in the 2013 season, via Marcus Thompson III of the Daily Democrat:
It's hard to deal with, but at the same time I feel like I'm built for this. I'm cut out for this. Anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's always been my motto.
I love being a Raider. No ifs, ands or buts about it. I want to give them what they deserve.
McFadden clearly has talent, or he wouldn’t have been taken with the No. 4 pick out of Arkansas. However, for every impressive run or elusive cut, McFadden has dealt with injuries and an overall lack of production.
He only tallied 379 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 10 games last season and averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per carry the past two years.
In fact, McFadden has never played more than 13 games in a single one of his six seasons.
Bringing back McFadden in lieu of Rashad Jennings, who tallied 394 more rushing yards than the Arkansas product last year, was one of a series of confusing moves the Raiders made on the first day of free agency, as Eric Edholm on Yahoo! Sports pointed out:
The Oakland Raiders opened free agency leading the NFL in salary-cap room. After less than two hours of action, the team is among the most roundly criticized for their early moves.
Yes, the team signed running back Darren McFadden to a one-year, $4 million contract, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, and signed Rodger Saffold for big money as well.
Are the Raiders better right now? Hard to say yes.
If you look at McFadden’s stats, the only year that really jumps out is 2010, when he totaled 1,157 rushing yards, 5.2 yards per carry, 507 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. It just so happened that he played 13 games that year, which is tied for the most of his career with his rookie season in 2008.
Oakland clearly had visions of this version of McFadden in its mind when it elected to bring him back on the first day of free agency.
For his part, McFadden needs to perform in a similar fashion to 2010 if he wants to be a major part of any NFL offense in the future. The days of McFadden slicing through defenses and being seen as a top-tier fantasy football option may be in the past without an impressive performance on this one-year deal.
McFadden should see this contract as something of a short-term tryout for a longer deal, be it for Oakland or another franchise.
Looking forward, if McFadden struggles again or fails to stay healthy after the 2014 season, it’s difficult to imagine any type of legitimate market for him in the future. Running backs are very replaceable as it is in the NFL outside of a few superstars, and McFadden will be another year closer to the mystical age of 30 that seems to derail even some of the best running backs.
If he impresses in 2014, perhaps a more sustainable demand will emerge.
The one thing going for McFadden is the fact that he was a top-five pick. That designation will always carry some weight with it because teams will hold out hope that he can tap into that explosive talent we saw at Arkansas
However, it will be impossible to ignore McFadden’s lack of consistent production going forward if he struggles or is injured again in 2014.
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