Former Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden announced Tuesday afternoon that he's quitting the NFL instead of finding another team after the Cowboys dropped him Sunday afternoon. The former University of Arkansas star's decision comes in the midst of his 10th NFL season and marks a stark disappointment for both player and team.
Going into the 2017 season many considered McFadden, still just 30 years old, to be an essential insurance policy for the Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott, the team's superstar tailback, faced a league suspension stemming from domestic violence allegations made in 2016, and McFadden had rushed for almost 1,100 yards in just 10 starts behind the Cowboys' offensive line in 2015.
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell dropped the hammer on Elliott, banning him for the first six games of the season, McFadden appeared poised for a breakout, in both real football and the fantasy variety, where he became an essential pickup for all who deigned to take a risk on Elliott and his pending appeal. McFadden played as the the Cowboys lead back in the preseason, but as Elliott's appeal continued, his fortune changed.
As Elliott played through the season's first eight games during his desperate attempt to stave off his ban in federal court, Alfred Morris emerged as the Cowboys' primary backup running back, performing well in spot duty with a 70-yard scamper against the Rams in week four. Eventually, Rod Smith also moved ahead of McFadden in the Cowboys' running back pecking order, thanks to his versatility. McFadden was left off the active roster for 10 of the Cowboys' first 11 games. During the one 2017 contest in which McFadden was active, he rushed for -2 yards on just one carry against the Falcons on Nov. 12 — the first game Elliott missed for his suspension.
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After the Cowboys' debacle against the Chargers on Thanksgiving, they waived McFadden — a move that, while surprising, didn't come as a complete shock, given his lack of a defined role and the premium the NFL places on 53-man roster spots.
In a statement announcing his retirement, McFadden expressed gratitude to his teammates, singling out his offensive lines and the two owners — the Raiders' Al Davis and the Cowboys' Jerry Jones — for whom he played during his decade in the league.
"I just want to say that I make this decision not with sadness or without further opportunity, but with a couple of days to reflect on how I feel and where I am at this stage of life," McFadden said. "I know that this is the right move for me. I look forward to what the future holds — spending some more time with my family, pursuing some outside interests and, of course, going to a few Arkansas football games!"
For the next three games — all must-wins for the Cowboys as they desperately cling to their playoff lives — it will be up to Morris and Smith to keep the team's ground game alive. McFadden, the fifth pick of the 2008 NFL draft, is done.