Week 1, 2011, Cowboys at Redskins, Redskins leading 3-0, 2nd Quarter, :04 left on the clock, Cowboys ball on their own 36. What do you do if you’re Dallas? If you’re sane, you kneel on the football, write off a crappy first half of football, and try to regroup. What did the Cowboys do? They called a Hail Mary… from 64 yards away! Mistakes #1 and #2 go to Jason Garrett for calling the play, and Wade Phillips for not saying “Are you serious? Kneel on the football.”
Tony Romo drops back to pass, the Redskins get a little bit of a pass rush, and the play is cooked. Rather than aborting the play, sliding down and heading into the locker room, Romo commits mistake #3. He throws this weird, totally ill-advised backhanded lateral shovel pass to Choice, which was insanely risky (stupid) considering there was basically no reward whatsoever. And then of course, Choice commits the final mistake as he gets mugged by DeAngelo Hall, who rips the ball free, scoops it up and runs in for a back-breaker of a TD with no time left on the clock. 10-0 Redskins going into the half, eventually winning the game, and setting the stage for an abysmal Cowboys season.
Something happened to Tashard Choice in that game – I think Jason Garrett no longer trusted him. After that loss to the Redskins, here are the number of carries Choice had the next 10 weeks: 1, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 3, 0, 2, 1. That’s a total of 9 carries (less than one carry per game). Despite Marion Barber playing terrible football (Barber was averaging 3.1 yards per carry and 4.5 yards per reception through Week 12), Choice was still buried behind Barber on the depth chart. That of course could have been more on Jerry Jones, who would not be happy seeing his $45 million player (Barber) wasting away on the bench, but that’s for another debate. Choice would have to wait until Week 13 at Indianapolis before he got another chance to see significant action, and that was only because Barber was out with a calf injury. In that game, Choice produced one of just two 100-yard efforts from a Cowboys’ RB on the season.
That fumble against the Redskins was Choice’s only one of the season. It remains to be seen if Choice has since earned back some trust. If not, what to do with him?
The Cowboys are in a weird position with Choice. Choice is currently in the final year of his rookie contract, and the Cowboys drafted rookie RB DeMarco Murray in the 3rd round this year. Felix Jones remains the “starter.” If Choice’s role doesn’t increase this year, I’m not sure why he would stick around. Is he a part of their plans going forward, or is he nothing more than a good backup that’ll never see the field unless someone gets hurt? With 2 similarly-sized, similarly-skilled RB’s already on the roster, I’d be surprised if Choice suddenly got more reps, even with the imminent departure of Barber.
The Cowboys were at their best before Barber got his enormous contract. Julius Jones would play the first half, and Marion Barber would serve as the 2nd half hammer against tired defenses. That was when the Cowboys’ OL was in their prime – The 2011 version is a shell of its former self. With Barber almost a certainty to get cut, the Cowboys could look to try to sign a “hammer RB” in free agency, but I just don’t think they’re the same team anymore where that approach would be effective.
The Cowboys could also look to trade Choice, but I’m not sure the value they’d get in return would be worth it. Good RBs are a dime-a-dozen in the NFL right now, with most teams having 2 or more adequate players at the position. I’m not sure the Cowboys’ phones would be burning up for a player like Choice.
Jerry Jones will want Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray on the field this season. I would suspect that assuming everyone stays healthy (and Murray not being a complete bust), Choice will be the odd man out in Dallas this year… again… and could be wearing another uniform in 2012.