Could McFadden fit into Bengals' rotation?

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
4:30
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- Hue Jackson's "introductory" news conference Friday morning had barely ended before I started getting bombarded with tweets from those curious about the possibility the newly promoted offensive coordinator might want to bring one of his old players to the Cincinnati Bengals.

At the time, I wasn't so sure the Bengals would be interested in bringing in an injury hobbled Darren McFadden to join their already dynamic two-man running back tandem of Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I even wrote as much in the first question of a Twitter mailbag that ran Saturday morning.

Well, it looks like the gag may be on me.

Comments Jackson gave a San Francisco Bay Area radio station late Friday would seem to suggest the coach isn't just interested in exploring the possibility of putting McFadden in his backfield, but he might strap on the six-year veteran's helmet, tie his shoelaces and tape his wrists, too.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsOakland running back Darren McFadden will become a free agent in March.
One thing is clear from Jackson's interview -- which comes here courtesy of ESPN.com colleague Paul Gutierrez -- he loves some Darren McFadden.

"He's still one of my favorite players," Jackson told the ESPN affiliate. "What a tremendous talent."

Jackson, who was McFadden's offensive coordinator in Oakland in 2010 and head coach in 2011, went on to add that he still thought McFadden is "a downhill runner." He still believes McFadden can make a difference not only in gaining chunk yards on the ground, but by catching screens and taking them those long distances, too.

"Somebody's going to get a really good football player here in the future if he doesn't stay there in Oakland and I just wish him the best," Jackson said.

McFadden's contract has come to an end, and he'll be entering free agency if the Raiders don't re-sign him by March 8. That date has some significance because it's the last day the Raiders hold exclusive negotiations rights with McFadden. Until that time, no representative from another team can make "any public or private statement of interest, qualified or unqualified, in another club's player or to that player's agent or representative, or to a member of the news media," according to the NFL's anti-tampering policy.

So, having said that, the Bengals could have another issue on their hands with respect to the Jackson-McFadden affair, depending upon how the NFL interprets the interview and depending upon whether the Raiders believe any measure of tampering has occurred with their player.

OK, with all of that background out of the way, let's get back to how we started this post: me arguing against a McFadden sighting in the Bengals' running back rotation.

There's a chance Jackson just purely admires the player and wishes he had a spot on the roster for him, but doesn't. There's also a chance Jackson was trying to help prop up one of his former players so that another team might be interested in giving him a try after March 8. There's also a chance that Jackson really does want McFadden and will figure out a way to squeeze him in this offseason.

If you parse Jackson's words, it sounds just he might be thinking the latter.

He shouldn't, in my most humble opinion.

You'll often see these words from me: "If it ain't broke ..."

In this case, the Bengals' running game doesn't need fixing. All it needs is life. If Cincinnati ran as often during this past season as it appears it will next season, the Bengals could have had two 800-yard rushers, and might still be competing in the playoffs.

From a talent perspective, they're set. Green-Ellis is the team's steady veteran and straight-ahead, pile-moving power rusher. He's the workhorse. As the young, flashy -- in play only -- speedy, shifty and entertaining finesse runner, Bernard is Cincinnati's show horse. In most backfields, there's room for only two such horses, unless a third, a pure blocker, gets added to the mix. The Bengals do need one of those, but it would be hard for any team to convince a back like McFadden to pick up and move some 2,400 miles just to be a fullback.

Between their slew of receivers and backs, the Bengals have enough show and workhorses to go around. Another playmaker like McFadden would add to the complications of figuring out just who all deserved to be fed the ball.

I just don't see where McFadden factors into Jackson's plans.

Bernard, who was drafted by Jackson and head coach Marvin Lewis last April, rushed for 695 yards in the regular season and had a hand in seven total touchdowns, certainly appears to be a heavy part of the Bengals' game plan going forward. For now, Green-Ellis does, too, although it will be interesting to track his contract negotiations after next season. He'll be turning 30. McFadden is two years his junior, and could make for a logical replacement for Green-Ellis if the Bengals are committed to developing Bernard and bringing along a bigger veteran to pair with him.

To me, that's about the only reason you bring in a rusher like McFadden next year. But even that's a shaky argument, to me.

So, to answer the question (could McFadden fit into the Bengals' running-back rotation?) I say "no." Maybe at a different time. And maybe also if the circumstances involving the Bengals' current backfield setup were slightly altered. But for now, the Bengals appear to be doing just fine with their two-back scheme.

If it ain't broke, Hue ...

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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