- Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Truly, over the course of Darren McFadden's star-crossed six-year career with the Oakland Raiders, the only coach to get consistent production out of the running back was Hue Jackson.
And it began with Jackson simply asking McFadden what kind of plays he liked to run upon Jackson's arrival as the Raiders' offensive coordinator prior to the 2010 season.
Of course, a litany of injuries turned Run DMC into Limp DMC over time and Jackson, who was the Raiders' offensive coordinator under Tom Cable in 2010 and Oakland's head coach in 2011, sent packing by Reggie McKenzie altered things.
But with the Raiders apparently tired of being unable to count on McFadden, McFadden due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11 and Jackson just promoted as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator, might McFadden find a new home in Ohio?
“You guys know how I feel about Darren McFadden; he's still one of my favorite players,” Jackson told ESPN affiliate 95.7 The Game in San Francisco on Friday.
“What a tremendous talent. But I really like my little guy Gio [Bernard]. He had a real good season. But I don't think you can ever have too many good backs.”
The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Bernard, a second-round draft pick from North Carolina, averaged 4.1 yards per carry for 695 yards and five touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 514 yards and three scores as a rookie this past season. But he had a costly fumble for the Bengals in their wild-card weekend loss to the San Diego Chargers.
It's also interesting to note that Bernard was selected with a pick the Bengals gained from the Raiders -- in the infamous “greatest trade in football” that sent quarterback Carson Palmer from Cincinnati to Oakland.
Of course, it was a deal engineered by Jackson himself.
And it should be noted that McFadden and Palmer never ran a single play together under Jackson as McFadden, who had been playing at a league-MVP level, was lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot before Palmer debuted.
So does Jackson still think McFadden, who missed six games this past season with an assortment of ailments, can be a game-changing player?
“I would have to be around him again but I think it's still no different with Darren,” Jackson said. “Darren is still a downhill runner, he's a one-cut runner. He has the ability to split out and catch balls and do those things but I think, with any football player, you've just got to build their confidence and let them know you believe in them and create an environment for them to be as good as they can be and normally good things happen. And I don't think it's any different with him.
“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.”
McFadden's agent, Ian Greengross, has represented him since the Raiders took the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up fourth overall in 2008. Greengross acknowledged his client has had injury issues, though there is a silver (and black?) lining since it's not the same injury every time.
“Unfortunately, it's always been a little knickknack of injuries here and there at different body parts,” Greengross told 95.7 The Game. “So, injury prone? Sure. I mean, unfortunately, in six years he has yet to play 16 games [in a season].”
McFadden has never appeared in more than 13 games, which he did as a rookie and in 2010. And before suiting up for the Raiders' last two games this season, he had missed 19 of Oakland's previous 39 games.
In his career, McFadden has missed 29 games with toe, knee, hamstring, toe, foot, ankle, hamstring and ankle injuries.
“I don't want to say he's unlucky, but at some point you've got to figure that he's just not going to have that bad luck,” said Greengross, who added that his agency would look into McFadden's history to see if his offseason training program should be modified. “It's not like there's one weak spot that's always being injured and will never be healthy.”
Greengross said McFadden would “certainly love” to return to Oakland but that no conversations had taken place.
“He's always been a Raider at heart, he's never looked to leave so he would certainly come back,” Greengross said. “A lot's going to depend upon the circumstances and how he sees [himself] fitting in, and how they see him fitting in. And certainly we'd probably be wise to talk to some other teams as well once free agency begins.”
Even if the Raiders did have interest, McFadden's price tag would seemingly have to be lower than the $5.8 million he made this past season, when he also had a salary-cap number of $9.6 million and ended with a second consecutive per-rush average of 3.3 yards -- equaling his career low.
But under Jackson, McFadden's average went from 3.4 the year before Jackson arrived to 5.2 and then 5.4.
“When they ran that straight power [blocking scheme], for running backs that had 200 or more carries over those two seasons in total, Darren led the league in rushing average,” Greengross said.
But since then, with the Raiders going back to more of a zone-blocking scheme in 2012 and a combo this past season? Not so much.
“As long as he gets a little hole, I know that speed is still there,” Greengross said. “Even though he hasn't been out there as much as he would have liked to be because of the injures, the one thing the injuries haven't done is taken away that speed.”
And yes, Greengross said McFadden is open to playing a complementary role.
Which brings us back to Jackson and the Bengals -- when the time is right, of course.
“I think Darren can play with anybody,” Jackson said. “If it's the Darren McFadden that I used to know, there's no question -- whether it's in Cincinnati, Oakland or San Francisco or anywhere. He's talented enough to play anywhere in the National Football League.”
But will he be healthy enough?
13hEric D. Williams