One of these undrafted free agents running backs would be an excellent addition to the Cowboys.
One of the most important choices for the Dallas Cowboys this summer will be what to do with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The squad will try to enhance its offense while navigating the difficulties of having a high-priced quarterback on the roster. Will Zeke be restructured? Will Pollard be franchised? Will they do neither and instead take a different path?
We discussed yesterday how the successful formula involves putting the running back position at the bottom of the priority list and searching for less expensive alternatives to enhance the rushing game. Today, we’ll provide several names that may fit perfectly in the team’s running back room without demanding a lot of cap money.
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that this year’s free agency running backs include several well-known names. Some backs will be compensated, while others will be paid less. For the sake of this conversation, none of the following big-name running backs are on the table (estimated market value given, data courtesy of spotrac):
- Josh Jacobs, $12.8 million
- Saquon Barkley, $12.3 million
- David Montgomery, $7.2 million
- Miles Sanders, $7.2 million
- Damien Harris, $7.1 million
- Kareem Hunt, $7 million
Pollard’s market worth is estimated to be $9 million a year.
Things will get much more cheap if these top-tier free-agent running backs are inked. Dallas should be searching for a veteran worth $1 to $3 million to pair with a fresh-legged youngster found in the latter stages of the draft. Who should the Cowboys go after? Here are three free agents that may help the Cowboys’ running back corps if Elliott and Pollard are released.
The Texas native
There was a time when D’Onte Foreman was filled with hope. He spent the first two years of his career with the Houston Texans as a backup to Pro Bowler Lamar Miller. After being waived in 2019, he was signed by the Tennessee Titans, where he once again served as Derrick Henry’s backup. Last summer, he agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract with Carolina.
Foreman has finally been able to show off his talent, whether stepping in for an ailing Henry or the traded-away Christian McCaffrey. After taking over as the starting running back in Carolina in the middle of the season, Foreman put together a string of solid performances. Last season, he recorded five games with more than 100 yards rushing. That’s two more than Zeke and Pollard put together.
This Texas City High School/University of Texas rushing back might complete the circle by returning to the other NFL Texas club to provide low-cost power and burst in the running game.
The guy who just needs a chance
D’Ernest Johnson is an undrafted free agent from South Florida who has been buried deep behind the dynamite tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the Cleveland Browns. Throughout his four years in the league, he has played little, with only four carries last season. He’s only had three games in his NFL career with double-digit carries, but he’s done well in each of them, totalling 340 yards on 54 carries (6.3 ypc). The Cowboys may recall one of those games, when the Browns defeated Dallas 49-38 in 2020.
Johnson possesses quick-cutting feet for bouncing outside, yet he moves quickly north and south. He does an excellent job of detecting creases and hitting the holes rapidly. He’s very effective at shifting in the backfield when blocking fails, which is something Cowboys running backs had to do late last season. It’s always wonderful to have a player that can carve out his own area. Johnson is also a good pass catcher with return ability.
The unsexy staple
After parting ways with Leonard Fournette, the Jacksonville Jaguars scored a steal in UDFA James Robinson. During his debut season, he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and added 344 yards as a receiver. The next season, the Jags rebuilt their running backfield by signing veteran Carlos Hyde and selecting first-round rookie Travis Etienne, but after Etienne got hurt and Hyde struggled, Robinson would once again lead the club in rushing. Even when Etienne returned last year, Robinson was the starter for the first five weeks of the season. In late October, he was dealt to the New York Jets.
Robinson’s style of play is unremarkable, and he lacks outstanding athletic abilities. He adds an awareness for finding running space as well as some underappreciated yards after contact. He stays low, catches passes, and has proven he can endure a heavy workload when called upon.
A Robinson deal would be no different from what other teams that signed him were doing: providing depth. If the Cowboys go that route, he may be a safe veteran bridge to help bring a young rookie along.
Robinson is a restricted free agent, but the Jets have lately made investments in young running backs (Breece Hall and Michael Carter).
It may appear to be a dangerous move to replace Zeke and Pollard with players like this, but if the Cowboys’ front management can find low-cost contributors at other positions, why can’t they do the same at one of the league’s more replaceable positions?
- For more information about unique Dallas Cowboys gifts, please visit MakedTee.