There was a time not too long ago when a running back nicknamed “the Barbarian” roamed the backfield for the Cowboys. That same man is still employed in Dallas, but he’s no longer worthy of the nickname.
Barbarians are fierce, brutish beasts, and last season Marion Barber was more everyman than caveman. His injury-prone style limited his effectiveness, and kept him on the sidelines for three games. Those were the same three crucial games late in the season in which the Cowboys were pursuing their pipe dream of a playoff berth after a horrific start.
Barber finished the season with just 374 rushing yards and four touchdowns, but it gets worse. He eclipsed the 40-yard mark only three times, and in a clogged backfield with two other versatile RBs who can get creative as receiving options–Felix Jones and Tashard Choice–Barber had only 11 receptions for 49 yards.
So that’s why since Dallas’ season ended with a whimper there’s been talk of Barber being cut, and the Cowboys essentially admitting their mistake when they signed the 27-year-old to a seven-year, $45 million contract in 2008. Back in January Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com pushed the idea, observing the Cowboys’ depth at the position.
McMahon admitted that cutting Barber likely won’t be appealing because of the $4 million bonus he’s due this year, but he also noted that Choice–who’s behind both Barber and Jones–has passed Barber’s production in the rare times he’s been utilized. Over the past three seasons Choice has had 11 games in which he received at least eight carries, finishing with 693 rushing yards, and an an average of 4.5 yards per carry. In Barber’s last 11 games with eight carries he has 486 yards and an average of 4.2. They’re the same runner, just one comes at a much cheaper price.
But now after the draft there’s another name in the mix, making a jammed backfield more packed than the living room at an old age home during a Matlock marathon. The Cowboys drafted former Oklahoma Sooners running back DeMarco Murray with their third round pick. Murray emerged during his senior season, rushing for 1,214 yards. Similar to Jones and Choice, he’s also versatile, and had a combined 63 touchdowns over his four seasons (rushing and receiving).
Jean Jacques-Taylor of the Dallas Morning News said that after Jones failed to seize the starting job with Barber injured and struggling, Murray could be in for a quick ascent up the depth chart.
DeMarco Murray will challenge Felix Jones for the starting running back position, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t expect to win the job. Jones has been a disappointment, and the Cowboys have provided a catalyst for him to play his best football.
As is the case with many teams in the modern approach to the running game, the Cowboys likely won’t have a true No. 1 running back. Each player currently occupying a chunk of real estate on the depth chart is so interchangeable that touches will be spread evenly.
But what’s becoming apparent is that following his recent bout with both injuries and overall suckiness, Barber has gone from being a Pro Bowler in 2007 and knocking on the door of 1,000 yards in 2009, to being expendable.