The Oakland Raiders are planning to make major changes to their roster this offseason, including at running back. Many feel that Darren McFadden, who's set to become a free agent, has no chance of returning. And there's a very good chance that Maurice Jones-Drew will be cut and follow him out the door.
If you agree that Oakland should cut ties with them, you're half-right.
Of the three main running backs the team used last season, only Latavius Murray is guaranteed to return. Parting ways with both McFadden and Jones-Drew seems destined to happen, but that would leave the team with two spots to fill.
The obvious answer is to let McFadden walk as a free agent and keep Jones-Drew since he’s already under contract. But the right answer is the opposite: Oakland should re-sign McFadden and release Jones-Drew.
McFadden needs to be Murray’s partner in the backfield in 2015. Here’s why.
MJD Is Done
Jones-Drew was fast. He was shifty. He was dangerous. He was durable.
He was. But he’s not anymore.
After suffering a foot injury in Week 6 of 2012 (ironically, in a game against the Raiders), Jones-Drew missed the rest of that season—the first time he missed a game in his career. He returned in 2013, but he wasn’t nearly as productive and was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Oakland signed Jones-Drew with the hope that he would be able to return to form. Unfortunately, that never happened.
In 12 games with the Raiders, he only had 43 rushing attempts for a paltry total of 96 yards (2.2 yard per carry) and no touchdowns. The carries went to Murray and McFadden, and Jones-Drew spent most of the season as a spectator.
Jones-Drew will be 30 years old by the time next season's camp starts. That’s late in a running back’s career, especially one with an injury history. Running back isn’t a position where players suddenly bounce back, either. Once a running back’s production starts to decline, it generally stays that way.
Given the minimal production he’s capable of at this point, Jones-Drew certainly isn't worth the $2.4 million it’ll cost the team to keep him.
The only logical move for the team, both financially and on the field, is to cut ties with the aging back.
McFadden Has More Left in the Tank and a Defined Role
At only 27 years old, McFadden is entering his prime. He’s younger than Jones-Drew, and he also has much less wear and tear.
|Games Played||Rushing Attempts|
Of course, McFadden has played fewer games because of his inability to stay healthy. Since entering the league, he’s missed 29 games due to injury.
But in 2014, McFadden did something he had never done before: play 16 games. It’s not a coincidence that the first season in which he wasn’t expected to be the featured back was the first time he didn’t miss a game.
This exemplifies the role he should be brought back to play. Murray is going to be the starter—meaning McFadden would be used situationally.
This is the perfect role for him. Fewer touches mean more games. And when McFadden is on the field, the plays would be limited to those that play to his strengths.
McFadden's Never Been Given a Chance to Succeed
Who's more responsible for a player's success, the player or the coach?
The answer, of course, is that both play a part. The coach has to create a game plan that puts the player in a position to succeed. The player then has to step onto the field and get the job done.
The fact is that McFadden has spent most of his career not being put in a position to succeed.
Here's a rundown of the head coaches and offensive coordinators he's had to work with since entering the NFL.
|Year||Head Coach||Offensive Coordinator|
|2008||Lane Kiffin*/Tom Cable||Greg Knapp|
|2009||Tom Cable||No OC|
|2010||Tom Cable||Hue Jackson|
|2011||Hue Jackson||Al Saunders|
|2012||Dennis Allen||Greg Knapp|
|2013||Dennis Allen||Greg Olson|
|2014||Dennis Allen*/Tony Sparano||Greg Olson|
That's an unimpressive list.
These coaches had their own agendas. They had their visions of the running game, and McFadden was always forced to try to adjust his running style to the game plan—and not the other way around.
When watching McFadden run the ball, it's clear what his running style is. "Elusive" isn't how you would describe it. He looks for contact rather than trying to avoid it. This makes him less effective when running between the tackles.
The only coach who played to McFadden's strengths was Jackson. McFadden is much better in space, so Jackson called plays that let McFadden get to the outside more often.
It's no coincidence that this led to the most successful period of McFadden's career. In 2010, he averaged 5.2 yards per attempt and totaled 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns over 13 games.
And even though his 2011 season was limited to seven games due to injury, McFadden actually improved. Six weeks into the season, he was the NFL's leading rusher. He finished with an average of 5.4 yards per attempt, 614 yards and four touchdowns.
New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave can do the same thing. It’s not a coincidence that Fred Taylor and Adrian Peterson had some of their best seasons with Musgrave calling the plays.
Yes, those are two big names. But McFadden is just as talented. And with Musgrave calling plays that highlight his strengths, McFadden can be as successful.
Simplify the Offseason Process
The Raiders have a need at almost every position, and it’s not just a matter of bringing in bodies. Oakland needs proven performers at tight end, along the defensive line and at linebacker, just to name a few. And that’s going to cost money.
Why add running back to the list?
Jones-Drew will most likely be cut. That means that, even if the team drafts a running back or adds one through free agency, the roster still has an opening at running back.
McFadden can be brought back at a reduced cost—definitely less than the $2.4 million the team would spend on Jones-Drew—and he now has a role on the team that he can actually be productive in.
By keeping him, the Raiders have a player they know and understand how to use. The new coaching staff will use him effectively. That makes him a low-risk, high-reward signing.
The Raiders brought back McFadden in 2014 on a one-year prove-it deal, and the experiment failed. Most, including the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur, doubt that it'll happen again.
But with as many improvements as the Raiders have to make all over the roster, they need to make easy, effective moves where they can. Bringing McFadden back is one of them.
As disappointing as McFadden's career has been up to this point, the talent that got him drafted fourth overall in 2008 is still there. It's the team that hasn't done enough with it.
Now, the right coaches are in place. Now isn't the time to give up.