The rumors now seem to have some legs — owner Jerry Jones has said "it's a consideration," after which head coach Wade Phillips said the same thing.
If both are acknowledging now that a shake-up in the running back hierarchy is a possibility, either it's posturing to facilitate a surprise draft pick or potential trade, or it's true.
If the rumor does end up being true, the biggest beneficiary might well end up being … Barber.
Barber is very competitive, and likely would not take well to what he might perceive as a "demotion." But such a move would slide him back into the role at which he was most effective.
For the first three seasons of his career, Barber was the "closer" who came into games to finish up what first-team running back Julius Jones started. Dallas owner Jerry Jones eventually decided that Barber could handle the bulk of the carries, and Julius Jones ended up in Seattle.
In 2006 and 2007, Barber averaged 4.8 yards per carry off the bench. Prior to the 2008 season — Julius Jones' first season as a member of the Seahawks — Barber inked a seven-year, $45 million contract, and in his first season as a starter, his average dropped by more than full yard per carry, to 3.7.
Barber could be the football equivalent of Mariano Rivera, Eric Gagne, Joe Nathan, Jason Isringhausen or Keith Foulke. Each started his baseball career as a starter, and each enjoyed modest success. But when their teams moved those players to the back end of the bullpen, they became stellar closers.
To be fair, Barber has enjoyed more than "modest" success. But he hasn't been the hammer he was when he was coming in for Jones to seal Dallas wins. As a starter, he was getting more carries, and with his violent running style, wearing down. Perhaps of equal importance, when Barber entered games in the third or fourth quarter, he was facing defenses that already were fatigued.
The potential move of Felix Jones to the starting lineup makes sense. When he is in the game, the Dallas offense is more potent. The Cowboys don't necessarily wear down an opponent like they can when Barber is in the game to do his battering ram act, but the potential to score from anywhere on the field increases significantly.
The two people who might not like the move are Barber and, oddly, Jerry Jones, who has said the move is "a possibility" … but does he really want to pay an average of $6.5 million per year for a backup? The answer there might be a resounding "no," in which case it's feasible that the Cowboys could try to trade Barber.
But at least for this season — read: "when there is no salary cap" — Phillips should do exactly what everyone at Valley Ranch seems to be considering. Start Felix Jones and let defenses wear out chasing him all over the field, and then let Barber come in and hammer a defense into submission. Even more than winning a Super Bowl, Jerry Jones would like to win a Super Bowl in his team's stadium, and juggling the running backs rotation would be a step in that direction.
Barber to the Bullpen?
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