The Duce is Officially Loose

Following Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game, massive speculation ensued surrounding the future of Philadelphia Eagles' running back Duce Staley. What are the chances that Staley finds his way to Valley Ranch? Better than you might think.

It didn't take long for the questions to start.

Only moments after the Eagles crushing 14-3 defeat at the hands of the upstart Carolina Panthers, running back Duce Staley was fielding questions about his future in the National Football League.

And why not?

One of the most underrated running backs in the league is staring free agency squarely in the face this offseason. After holding out during training camp last summer, it has been made widely known that the former South Carolina star would not be wearing the same uniform at the start of the 2004 regular season.

Of course if you're an Eagles fan, you may not want to see Staley leave the same backfield that he's roamed for each of the past seven seasons.

But if you're not, then you are hoping that somehow your team can put together a package big enough to land his services.

Especially if you are the Dallas Cowboys.

Yes, Bill Parcells and the Dallas Cowboys are at least interested in Duce Staley.

That's been a well-known fact for quite some time. I mean, what team wouldn't be interested in a running back that has been one of the most consistent performers on the field since 1997?

Duce Staley rushed for over 4,800 yards on 1,200 attempts during his 7 seasons in Philadelphia.

Sure, his overall numbers were down in 2003, but that was primarily because of his 26-day hold out and the emergence of Brian Westbrook.

Even considering that, he still finished the season with 463 yards on just 96 carries (4.8 yards/carry). And he still has the ability to put a team on his back and carry them through a successful postseason run.

Troy Hambrick does not.

That fact was certainly proven over and over again throughout the course of this past year.

Even though Hambrick displayed "featured back" ability last season, he never proved to be consistent enough in the eyes of Bill Parcells to warrant the same consideration in 2004.

And so the world of free agency turns.

There's absolutely no doubt that the Cowboys will look to several big names this offseason to fill their running back needs.

It goes without saying that Staley is one of the top targets in the eyes of many scouts at Valley Ranch, but they'll also be challenged by a whole host of teams interested in acquiring his talents.

After all, his numbers speak for themselves. In just 7 years, he was already 3rd all-time in rushing yards in the Eagles' organization with 4,807.

He's a back that has been depended on to run, to block, and to catch the football with the game on the line. At 5-11, 220 pounds, he's also big enough to remain to take the pounding of a 16-game regular season. And perhaps most importantly, he has the instincts and the ability to make a big play anytime he touches the football.

Furthermore, he's passionate about the game and his role in it.

In a letter that he addressed to the Philadelphia fans last year during his hold out, Staley said, "I just completed the best year of my career and I am heading into the final year of my contract with the team; I was just interested to know how I fit into the team's plans in the future, including an extension that would have me finishing my career with the Eagles."

"Unfortunately, not one person in the Eagles front office has given me any idea of what the future holds for me as a player for the Eagles beyond this season. This has come as a real shock to me. After a while, you start to wonder what's going on."

"Why haven't the Eagles front office even tried to talk to me and see what my thoughts are on the subject of my future," Staley added.

Seriously, would you expect to see that sort of passion out of Troy Hambrick or anyone else the Cowboys could acquire? That's actually almost laughable question in this day and age. Staley is undoubtedly looking for a long-term contract and place to call home. He wants to sign something that could take him near the close of his career in the NFL.

And you better believe that the Dallas Cowboys are interested; especially after the emergence of the Carolina Panthers and Stephen Davis this year.

Davis rushed for a team-record 1,637 yards and was the primary reason for Carolina's surprising run to the Super Bowl.

Could the Cowboys be in the same position in 2004? Perhaps.

The defense, which finished the 2003 regular season ranked #1 in the league, appears to be there. The coaching certainly is there. The only thing that seems to be missing is an offense that isn't a liability.

And it starts at running back.

In 2004, it could start with Duce Staley.

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