IRVING, Texas -- Darren McFadden is at the point of his career when his ego has faded. Don’t misunderstand, it’s still there, but team success trumps the 28-year-old's personal goals.
After languishing seven seasons in Oakland, where he never finished above .500, but earned about $65 million, McFadden is desperate to win with the Dallas Cowboys.
So if that means helping rookie Ezekiel Elliott with the playbook or some subtle nuance of playing running back, then he’s going to do it. Justin Vargas helped him, and he’s trying to do the same for Elliott.
"He was in the same position Zeke is in," running backs coach Gary Brown said, "so I think he saw what the guy ahead of him did in Oakland, and he’s trying to do the same thing for Zeke."
McFadden said he’s simply trying to ease Elliott’s transition into the NFL.
"Coming in as the fourth overall pick is going to be a lot of weight on your shoulders, but I feel like it’s something he can handle," McFadden said of Elliott. "He’s been doing a great job in [organized team activities]. He’s a hard worker. He knows his plays, and that’s one of the main things for a running back."
McFadden knows the Cowboys didn’t spend the fourth pick of the NFL on a running back to keep Elliott on the bench. Elliott’s going to start and receive the bulk of the carries this season, McFadden just wants to make sure he has a role on the club.
His attitude and production helps.
McFadden signed a two-year deal worth $3 million before last season, and he is to earn $1.25 million this season. He’s competing with Alfred Morris, who signed a two-year, $3.5 million deal in the offseason.
McFadden took over the starting job in Week 7 after the Cowboys waived unreliable Joseph Randle, and McFadden finished with 1,089 yards -- good for fourth in the NFL. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry, the first time since 2012 he had averaged more than 3.3.
McFadden finished tied for fourth in the NFL with nine runs of 20 yards or more, and he finished sixth with 27 runs of 10 yards or more. He impressed coach Jason Garrett with his toughness and professionalism last season, qualities Randle lacked.
McFadden converted nine of 12 third- or fourth-and-one situations, but he no longer has the speed to score long-distance touchdowns. It was never more evident than last season against Green Bay.
On first-and-10 from the Green Bay 38 in the first quarter, McFadden ran through a wide hole on right side. The play seemed destined to go for a 68-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead, but McFadden began cutting back across the field at the 50 and was finally dragged down at the Green Bay 12. The drive ended with an interception in the end zone, and the Cowboys eventually lost, 28-7.
The 50-yard gain was nice, but the McFadden who ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.33 seconds at the NFL scouting combine would have scored a touchdown. The Cowboys drafted Elliott, in part, because they hope he can finish a run like that with a touchdown celebration.
McFadden hasn’t scored a touchdown of longer than seven yards since a 64-yard run against Pittsburgh in Sept of 2012. In his first four seasons, he scored on plays of 70, 67, 57, 51, 36 19, 19 and 11.
"I’ve been around the game long enough to know there’s always a new guy coming in, whether you pick him up in the fourth round or the first round," McFadden said. "I’m a guy who’s getting older, so I know somebody is going to come in and take over."
That somebody is Elliott, but McFadden doesn’t mind helping him.