ASHBURN — Alfred Morris will arrive at FedEx Field on Sunday morning wearing unthinkable colors.
The iconic helmet star. The white jersey. The silver pants. A fan favorite in Washington for his hard running style, humble roots and unpretentious manner, Morris fell victim to the business of the NFL last March. The Redskins no longer wanted him. After a while he landed with their biggest rival, the Dallas Cowboys.
On Sunday, Morris will have a chance to prove Washington’s front office wrong when the two teams meet in Week 2. But he doesn’t want any part of that thinking, either.
“They just had a different plan and I wasn’t a part of it and that was OK,” Morris said. “I accept that because I know at the end of the day it’s a business and so you just move on. And, honestly, I didn’t know where I would end up at and just kind of tested it. The free agency process was very insulting to just say the least. I didn’t like it one bit. I don’t want to do it again.”
In the end, after a few tense weeks where Miami and Denver expressed interest, but put running back on the back burner, Morris drew interest from Dallas and signed with the Cowboys on March 22. That decision looked unfortunate when the organization drafted Ohio State star running back Ezekiel Elliott No. 4 overall a month later. It also still had Darren McFadden, who resurrected his career in 2015 with 1,089 rushing yards behind one of the game’s best offensive lines.
But McFadden hurt his elbow in June and is out the first six weeks of the season. That leaves Morris as the primary backup. He had seven carries for 35 yards in the season opener against the Giants in a 20-19 loss on Sunday. Getting used to that role after being the No. 1 back in Washington for four years takes some adjustment. Elliott had 20 carries for 51 yards last week. Even something as small as donning a rival jersey, and adjusting to traffic and driving style in a new city takes effort.
“Maybe it’ll hit me this week when we go back to Landover and I am on the other sideline and the opposite locker room,” Morris said. “Maybe then it’ll be like, ‘Oh, this is real, I’m really gone.’ So we will see. But it’s been different, just the way they run things around here, not to say it’s better, it’s just different so it’s been adjustments for me.”
Morris figured his time with the Redskins was coming to an end. It wasn’t hard to see. Washington drafted Matt Jones with a third round pick in 2015. Morris was technically the starter, but by the end of the season he had 202 carries to Jones’ 144. Morris averaged 3.7 yards per run, Jones 3.4.
But one player the front office determined could improve quickly at age 23 and the other had hit his ceiling at 27. The money saved between the two men ($1.8 million guaranteed for Morris, a $698,854 salary-cap hit for Jones) could be applied elsewhere given their similar production.
“That’s difficult, two-fold because he is a good player and was very productive for us,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “A sturdy player, and very consistent, and also because he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. It was a difficult decision, but decisions like that happen all the time and you have to make them as a coach and as a GM.”
Added Morris, who never sought an explanation during the season or after for his declining status: “That was fine with me. It goes back to ‘it’s a business’. I can’t cry over spilled milk. I just had to go buy me another gallon.”
Morris harbors no ill will. When he arrives at FedEx Field on Sunday he hopes to continue his long-standing tradition before Redskins home games. Morris climbs into the stands hours before the game and hangs out with stadium security and guest services personnel who became friendly with him over his four years.
“Oh, for sure! That’s going to be the highlight of my trip, other than a win – a win would be very nice,” Morris said. “Yeah, I’m looking forward to meeting up with them. Hopefully if we don’t grab anything for dinner – depending on our meetings and our schedule – if we can’t grab anything beforehand, I’m definitely going to be at the stadium as early as I can. Definitely go to my same little spot and hang out with my same family and just shoot the breeze before the game.”
Morris remains friendly with Redskins players. On Monday during the game against Pittsburgh, Morris tweeted encouragement at quarterback Kirk Cousins while watching from thousands of miles away and texted him beforehand.
“I’m always going to be in Kirk’s corner. All the guys – DY [Darrel Young], Robert [Griffin III] – we kind of came through together,” Morris said. “We started around the same time and I was able to build great relationships with them, so I’m always going to root for them. Just because I’m on an opposing team doesn’t mean I’m not going to root for my friends.”
Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter.