Rams sign ex-Cowboy Lance Dunbar as backup running back

Lance Dunbar averaged 4.5 yards per carry in limited action in four seasons with Dallas. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Rams signed former Dallas Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar, who comes in as a new backup for Todd Gurley.

Dunbar was signed Thursday to a one-year contract worth up to $3 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Caplan. He replaces Benny Cunningham, an unrestricted free agent who spent the last four years with the Rams. Under new head coach Sean McVay, the Rams sought a change-of-pace back like Dunbar who could be a threat in both the run and pass game, a different skill set from Cunningham, who is more of a traditional backup.

The Dunbar signing means Gurley is expected to be on the field for a lot of third-down situations this coming season, making it crucial for him to improve in pass protection. Dunbar has some experience returning kickoffs, a role Cunningham excelled at, but those chores are now expected to fall on receiver Pharoh Cooper.

Dunbar, originally undrafted out of North Texas, has been buried on the Cowboys’ depth chart for most of his career but offers versatility. He will probably be used in a role similar to that of Chris Thompson, who compiled 1,161 yards from scrimmage with McVay as the Redskins' playcaller the last two years. In 54 games from 2012 to 2016, Dunbar rushed for 422 yards on 94 attempts and also made 68 catches for 646 yards. The Rams previously had only Aaron Green and Malcolm Brown, two undrafted free agents, as depth behind Gurley.

With the Rams, Dunbar will be reunited with Skip Peete, his first running backs coach in Dallas. The Rams' hope is that he can remain healthy. Dunbar has played in a full season only once, but did make quicker-than-expected recoveries from major knee injuries in 2013 and 2015. Dunbar was in Los Angeles on Wednesday on a visit, as was free-agent linebacker Connor Barwin, who remains unsigned. The Rams expect to have room under the salary cap to sign Barwin and center Ryan Groy, who signed an offer sheet with them on Tuesday, giving the Bills five days to match.