Two people will determine when Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden returns to practice -- and both have the last name of Jones.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said that he and his father Jerry (the team owner and general manager) are taking a conservative approach toward McFadden as he recovers from a hamstring injury. So while head coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday that McFadden "probably is a few days away" from being back, any time table should probably be considered a loose estimate based upon comments Stephen Jones made to co-host Gil Brandt and me Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
"I know there are a lot of fans who have their doubts," said Jones, referring to McFadden's long injury history. "There's probably people in this organization right now that are a little frustrated he's not out there on the field. It's Jerry's and my opinion that we want to make sure he's ready to go when he hits that field."
McFadden is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after injuring his left hamstring last month. McFadden also missed significant offseason practice time after having tweaked his right hamstring.
A series of other leg injuries have contributed to McFadden failing to hit the heights expected when he was chosen at No. 4 overall by Oakland in the 2008 NFL Draft. McFadden's lone 1,000-yard rushing season came in 2010 and the only time he participated in a full 16-game season was last year with the Raiders.
Jones, though, believes the 27-year-old McFadden can still become a strong contributor in a running back-by-committee approach likely to get led by 2014 Cowboys backups Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. Dallas is going in this direction after failing to re-sign DeMarco Murray, the NFL's reigning rushing leader who is now with Philadelphia, and not using a draft pick on a running back.
"We've got to make sure when he hits the field he's ready and there's not something nagging that keeps him from being the best that he can be," said Jones, whose team signed McFadden to a two-year, $3 million contract that included a $200,000 signing bonus. "I know that can be frustrating for our coaching staff right now. It's that old deal -- out of sight, out of mind. They're only concerned about what's out there on the field right now. But it's our job with Jerry being the general manager and my job as player personnel (director) that when we do put that player out there that he's ready to go.
"We feel good about our situation right now. I know our coaches really want a third back out there. I think when he hits the field we're going to like what we see."