Commentary

Tashard Choice waiting for his turn

Running back hasn't gotten much of a chance, even with Marion Barber struggling

Updated: December 1, 2010, 2:34 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Tashard Choice says he'd be a rich man if he had a nickel for every time he was asked why he's the odd man out of the running back rotation.

Heck, he might even come close to matching the salary of ridiculously overpaid running back Marion Barber, the man whose starting job seems secure regardless of his subpar performance.

The Dallas Cowboys pay Barber like a Pro Bowler. He has produced like a practice-squad player this season, averaging 3.1 yards per carry, the second-lowest rate among the 33 backs with at least 100 carries this season.

Forgive Cowboys fans if they don't express much concern about Barber's strained left calf, which has put his status for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts in question. The injury could force the coaching staff to make the sensible move and give Choice a chance to form a one-two punch with Felix Jones.

That should be the Cowboys' tailback combo for the next few years. If the Cowboys aren't confident that's the case, they better draft a back. Barber clearly isn't the answer anymore.

Tashard Choice
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCowboys running back Tashard Choice has spent most of this season on the bench behind Felix Jones and a struggling Marion Barber.

Never mind what Jerry Jones said during his Tuesday appearance on KRLD-FM. The owner/general manager isn't going to cut Barber on a radio show, so his statement that "I wouldn't go that far in any way to say his time is done with the Cowboys" should be met with shrugs or scoffs.

The Cowboys made a mistake by giving Barber a seven-year, $45 million contract after his sole Pro Bowl season, in which he rushed for 975 yards and 10 touchdowns as a complementary back who came off the bench. It would be beyond foolish to keep paying Barber like an elite back -- he would be due $4.25 million next season with the salary increasing over the next three years -- after all the guaranteed money is gone from his contract.

In fact, it makes no sense that the baton hasn't yet been passed from Barber to Choice. Why wouldn't a team ranked 27th in rushing see whether Choice could give it a spark?

"I don't know, man," said Choice, who never bad-mouths his buddy Barber but is clearly frustrated by being the odd man out. "If I worried about that stuff, it would kill me."

Choice doesn't ask the coaches for a reason because, he said, he doesn't believe they could give him a good one. He's right.

Interim coach Jason Garrett simply believes Barber is better despite the significant statistical evidence to the contrary.

"He's the third back. He's the third back," Garrett said of Choice, apparently repeating the obvious for emphasis. "When he's gotten the bulk of his carries in the past, it's been because Felix or Marion has been hurt. And that's really the role he has on our football team right now."

That doesn't make it right.

You can't just ignore Choice's production when the coaches have been forced to let him play. He's had at least eight carries in eight games during his three-year career. He has rushed for 589 yards (5.2 per carry) in those games, adding another 252 yards on 27 receptions.

Those numbers compare favorably with Barber's best stretches during his career, never mind his production now that he's worn down after countless violent collisions.

And it's not like Choice padded his numbers against suspect competition. He was the Dallas offense's bright spot during an otherwise-disastrous December 2008. He rushed for 325 yards on 62 carries against defenses that finished the season ranked second, third, fourth and ninth in the NFL against the run.

If for some ridiculous reason the Cowboys have concluded that Choice can't play, they should have shopped him in the offseason or before the trade deadline. Might as well get some value for a guy several other teams would gladly take.

Garrett gushes about Barber setting a physical tone for the Cowboys, but the reality is Barber's inability to break tackles puts the Cowboys in too many third-and-long situations in which they are forced to be a finesse team.

Don't be fooled by Garrett's explanation that Barber's per-carry average is dragged down by his short-yardage work. Barber averages 2.8 yards per carry this season on first downs, 3.2 on second downs.

Yet Barber continues to play a significant role, while Choice gets just occasional scraps.

"Regarding Tashard Choice, we like him," Garrett said. "We like him as a football player. He's done a nice job for us in the past. If Marion is not full go this week, he'll have an opportunity to play some on Sunday."

There shouldn't be any ifs about it.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.