There's an interesting subplot haunting the preparations for next month's NFL, and it would likely involve two of the league's most iconoclastic owners: Brain-eating zombie Al Davis and Cowboys showboater Jerry Jones. Follow along:
Jones, who played for Arkansas in college, is in the market for Razorback halfback Darren McFadden, and he's bankrolled by two first-round picks. You'd think that would be a good start for a move-up-and-get-him deal, but Dallas' picks are No. 22 and No. 28. In the informal but sacrosanct system that NFL general managers use for covering their ass on draft day, those two picks have a combined value of 1,440 points.
The No. 1 overall? It's valued at 3,000. Basically unreachable.
But it's becoming increasingly clear that no team will take McFadden with the first pick, in spite of a near-consensus view among scouts that McFadden is the best running back prospect to enter the league in a decade.
How far will he slide? He's unlikely to be drafted before the No. 4 pick (1,800 points, Raiders), but would almost certainly be drafted no later than No. 6 (1,600 points, Jets). That's a range that Jones could reach -- if he really, really wants to get his man.
What makes all this so interesting?
- Dallas is one of the few teams in the NFC with the pieces in place to make a serious run at the Super Bowl. The Giants look to be contenders, but with the NFC North, West and South all looking rather depressed at the moment, Dallas should start the year poised to make a statement.
- The Cowboys rotated halfbacks in 2007, but their nominal "starter" (Julius Jones) left via free agency, and hard-running veteran Marion Barber is a fan-favorite but not a gamebreaker.
- Beyond his obvious Arkansas connections (which are considerable, and should not be discounted), Jones is an owner with a history of risk-reward actions. That's important because so many owners are essentially risk-averse. To move up to No. 4 would essentially cost Jones the equivalent of two firsts, a second and a fourth, a price that would drive off most personnel men who have to worry about about flopping and being fired. But Jones is an owner who operates as his own general manager: Not only is he willing to take risks if he perceives the reward, he doesn't have to justify it to his superiors.
- The risk: McFadden (who is no boy scout) could get hurt, could under-perform, could be a marginal player. Hey, it's happened before.
- The reward: Imagine a player equal to or better than 2007 NFL Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson operating in an RB platoon for a fully functional offense.
- Think timing: The Dallas offense is animated by Terrell Owens, and Owens is in the twilight of his career. If Jones wants to win a title during the "T.O. window," then he needs to be aggressive about winning now. That means valuing immediate contributors over players who have to be developed, and McFadden is a ready-to-go player at a position that is famous for producing rookie stars. In other words, he's a potential 2008 superstar, and literally the only player available to Jones -- through free agency, trade or the draft -- who fits that bill.
So there's your outline: If Jones moves up and nabs McFadden at No. 4, he's rolling the dice on adding a game-changing RB for a shot at winning it all in February. Experts would immediately frame the deal in the context of the Mike Ditka/Ricky Williams trade, in which the Saints coach/GM traded his entire draft to reach up and grab the Texas halfback. The critical storyline would go like this: Jones overspent to get a Razorback when he could have stayed put and "let the draft come to him" in a class that's deep with running back talent.
I think Jones can handle that criticism and pressure. But can he handle the strangest person in league history?
Consider Al Davis' recent history:
- He hired one of his former coaches (Art Shell), who brought in a bunch of Golden Geezers who had been away from the game for a decade. The team fell apart.
- He fired Shell after one season and started over.
- He hired a no-name coach (Lane Kiffin) with zero head-coaching experience, who also happened to be younger (31) than many of his players;
- He couldn't remember his new hire's first name at the press conference introducing him (Davis called him "Lance");
- Despite Kiffin relative success in 2007, Davis rewarded his first-year coach in the off-season by demanding his resignation. Kiffin refused.
- He made injured DT Tommy Kelly the highest paid defensive lineman in the league. Most scouts didn't even put Kelly in the top 10 or 15 players at his position, and that's without factoring in his bad knee.
- He signed WR Javon Walker -- again, another player coming off a significant knee injury -- to the fattest free agent contract awarded to any wide receiver this winter, despite the fact that there wasn't much of a market for his services elsewhere.
We could go on. There's no end to the litany of incompetence and insanity that is Al Davis. Which makes this all the more fascinating. If Jones makes a play for the No. 4 pick, how will Davis respond? Clearly the Raiders are more than one player away from a championship, and McFadden is the kind of player who might implode in the dysfunctional fantasyland that seems to have pervaded Oakland.
But then there's Davis, and there's simply no telling what he'll do. Negotiations could easily devolve to whatever feelings Davis has about Jones -- and who knows what those are?
Anyway, beyond the obvious NFL implications, the fate of McFadden is THE offseason story for fantasy football players. FFB, in almost any format, places a premium on productive running backs, and McFadden has the potential to produce like a Top 5 RB as a rookie if he gets in the right situation.