This week we are taking a pause from the draft profiles (32 down), to focus on the week of greatest activity in the NFL free agent market. Today is opening day with regards to open communication between interested teams and NFL free agents. The actual signing period begins on Wednesday afternoon, but I would assume we should not be the slightest bit shocked if there are verbal agreements leaked as early as today.
Now, the Cowboys have room to do something in free agency under their salary cap, but they also have plenty of things to consider before they open up that considerable wallet. First, they have room -- but not a ton -- unless they want to start moving things around with restructured deals or June 1 cuts (Brandon Carr), but I cringe at both ideas for the most part because restructured deals are the equivalent of using your credit card to pay bills, and cutting Brandon Carr means you need to go find a cornerback who is as good or better than Carr at a price that is right (which is far more difficult than it sounds).
For that reason, the premium positions are a very expensive list of targets in free agency. If you need a cornerback, left tackle, QB, or pass rusher, expect to pay top of the market prices and expect to pay $50 million to land that piece. Well, that is something the Cowboys wouldn't be likely to engage in unless they really think they can get the pass rusher of their dreams. But, given that the list has already been attacked by franchise tags and given they don't have much money that is free, I figure that they won't be in that conversation.
But, one market that is often much closer to $20 million than $50 million is the running back market. If you look at the last five seasons, with the single exception of DeMarco Murray, there have been almost no substantial RB contracts given out in free agency. This suggests what we have been saying is correct: Whether it is in the draft or free agency, the value of RBs is down because of all the reasons that have been discussed -- career span, durability, changing objectives of offenses, etc.
So, if your cash outlay is $15-$20 million for 3-4 seasons (or so), the idea of fixing RB might actually make some sense. By the way, this is the contract the Cowboys were willing to pay Murray last spring, so it isn't crazy to assume that might be their budget if the right guy comes along.
Well, the "right guy" is going to be a short list. But, he has to be an all-purpose back who can get tough yards and has outside juice. He has to be a weapon in the passing game and he has to have plenty of tread left on the tires. In this case, I believe I am pitching you the premise -- albeit, a bit of a long shot with reports that Miami is scrambling to get him signed -- of Lamar Miller.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami - 5'10, 225 - 24 years old
So, Lamar is just 24 years old and has low use as a full-time RB. These are good numbers to consider. To compare the amount of times he has been used since leaving high school, we would add the 363 touches he had at Miami in two seasons to the 755 touches (rushes plus completions) he has had in four seasons with Miami to get to a number of 1,118 for the six seasons -- or about 185 touches per year.
DeMarco Murray is still the apple of many fan's eyes around here. If you pitched them the idea that he can come home tomorrow at a reasonable price, there are many of you that would sign up immediately. To compare: He is 28 years old, and during that time has had more NFL rushes than Miller has had overall touches in the NFL and college. Murray has 1,389 touches in five NFL seasons and also an additional 916 touches in four seasons at Oklahoma. This adds up to 2,305 different collisions he has been a part of over the last nine years, which averages out to 256 per year. In other words, Murray has lived two Lamar Miller careers.
High mileage, low tread on Murray. There is a very reasonable chance that all of his best seasons are behind him.
But, that is what makes a young, proven player like Miller attractive. Especially when Miami is saying they want to pay him $5 million a season, tops. It sounds like Miami wants him, but if the number gets too high, they will turn to the same prospect I was in love with last year (even with the medical information): Boise State's Jay Ajayi. The Cowboys elected to wait until Round 5 on the Plano kid, and by then Miami grabbed him. It is certainly odd that same player may be enough to allow you to go spend $20 million on Miller when you could be paying Ajayi about $640,000 this year, but I digress. Water under the bridge.
Now, the first issue is if Miller -- a Miami kid who went to a Miami high school and a Miami university, and then to a Miami NFL team -- would now decide to leave Miami. I have no idea. But, that seems like a guy who enjoys his city.
However, if he did, I think this guy has the goods ...
Let's look at some of his tape from three games I worked on last night from late in his 2015 season:
Above is the most attractive thing that Miller brings. He has some real outside juice and can bounce all of your zone plays to the edge while having great vision (which we will show later). But, the first thing you want from a zone rushing team is a zone back who understands the concepts of the two most common routes -- front side and backside. He gets to the front side with incredible ease and rocket speed.
Let's go the other way now. Miller goes right and thinks about popping it up there for a few yards when he sees an initial crack, but then bounces it out and can turn the corner on a dime and finds a first down by being quick and decisive. I love this run and I think it is something the Cowboys really need to compliment their scheme -- a RB that can do this. This fits the idea of what this offense needs quite well.
How about the backside? Look at his left tackle get jacked back into the path and so Miller makes a quick decision to cut back all the way off the right tackle and still get five yards when nothing is there. That has been missing in 2015. The Giants were sitting on this and Miller made the play a success. Decisive. This is good tape.
Look at this beauty. Vision and decisive cuts and determination to make people miss at the second level. Lamar Miller doing this is clearly a rarity in Miami as I would not rate his offensive line anywhere near the Dallas offensive line. But, could you imagine this with the Dallas line? How many times could Lamar Miller bust into the secondary and then start making guys miss?
Let's look at some other aspects of his game. Miami wasn't asking him to pass protect. They would rather leak him out and hit him with passes to back off blitzes. But, even so, sometimes he has to pick up pass rushers.
This one is on a DB and he at least reroutes the man who he sees a bit late.
This one looks like he wasn't sure if he should be leaking out to give Ryan Tannehill a pass option or if he should try to get that guy right up the gut. I would argue he chose wrong here and so you are not getting a sixth offensive lineman here with Miller. That could be because Miami didn't want him doing that, because he was only pass protecting a handful of times in three games.
What the Dolphins would rather do is get him out on a flare and let him use the juice on the edge. This guy still has top end speed for a RB and can run away from just about any LB you send at him in space. He flirted with 4.4 flat (in the 40-yard dash) at the combine and you can see those jets.
Look at this juice to the edge. This is wonderful right here. In fact, it looks like Murray 2014 to me. He beats the DE to the edge, breaks through the LB, and then cuts inside the DB to get to pay dirt. All three levels right there. This guy can be legit on his day for sure.
But, this is more practical (above). The Giants have this play defended. Now, does my RB have the vision to see a crack and then the urgency and decisiveness to go get that crack and find eight yards when there doesn't look like more than three? I really think this is where Miller is pretty solid. I like this run quite a bit. Get what you can. Keep the offense on schedule.
And finally, his highlight of 2015: If you know Lamar Miller, it might be from this play.
Can your RB do this? This is improv and electricity. Obviously, it is a rare feat, but that is amazing.
So, would I throw a bunch of my resources on a RB? Usually not. But, Lamar Miller might be at the age and with the tape that makes you say if he would be interested in three years for $20 or $21 million, I might be really tempted to pull the trigger.
I realize Ezekiel Elliott is right on everyone's brain right now, but I really don't want to use my No. 4 pick on a spot like this. Running back is either dime or dozen or its not. If the NFL is no longer in the business of paying $45 million for RBs or drafting them in the 1st round, why would you? Especially if you have already spent so much on your offensive line under the premise that anyone can get 1,000 behind them.
But, a mid-level free agency play? If it is Lamar Miller, I have no issues with that. He looks like he can really help this offense.