The Oakland Raiders are going to have a decision to make regarding running back Darren McFadden. The former first round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft is scheduled to hit free agency this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Oakland has the salary cap space to retain McFadden, but it could be best for both parties to let him walk in free agency.
It comes down to the fact that McFadden is unable to stay healthy. He has never played a full 16 game season in his six seasons with the team. He actually has never played more than 13 games in a season. It has not just been one injury that has sidelined McFadden. He has missed time with foot, knee, shoulder, hamstring, and ankle injuries which does not bode well for the future. In his time with the Raiders he only rushed for more than 1,000 yards once in 2010. In two of the past three seasons he has carried the ball less than 115 times. His longest run of 2013 season was 30 yards, which speaks to the injuries affecting his on field performance.
McFadden may still have that combination of speed and explosiveness that made him the exciting player he was earlier in his career, but the Raiders cannot take that chance. They got terrific production from Rashad Jennings, who filled in for McFadden and eventually won the starting job outright. Jennings had the best season of his career in 2013 with 733 yards and six touchdowns in eight starts. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry; a feat McFadden has not accomplished since 2011 in only seven games. Because of his performance this season, Jennings should be the running back the Raiders look to re-sign this offseason. He is also slated to become an unrestricted free agent and likely command several more dollars because of the year he had.
McFadden has been a very good player for the Raiders organization when he was healthy. He was one of the most explosive playmakers to suit up for the silver and black in the last 10 years, but the team is in a win now scenario. They have the cap space and draft picks to re-build this roster into one that can win next season. They cannot wait on McFadden.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Raiders selected Latavius Murray out of UCF in the sixth round. He showed some promise in mini-camps and the beginning of training camp but was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury before the season started. The Raiders are counting on him to come back healthy and ready to contribute. The other running back on the 2013 roster was Jeremy Stewart, who will be an exclusive rights free agent. That means the Raiders will have the option of bringing him back if they desire. He rushed for two yards on two carries this season, but contributed big plays on special teams.
With some turnover at the running back position and some inexperienced and unproven back-ups, the Raiders could choose to take a running back in the later rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. They could also use some of their salary cap space to find a veteran that can contribute.
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