Despite always having to play second fiddle to Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys backup running back Tony Pollard has carved out a fairly significant role in the offense since being drafted in the fourth round in 2019.
While he’s made just a total of six starts in his four-year career, Pollard has racked up 2,616 rushing yards with the Cowboys, including 1,007 yards in 2022. He was even named to the Pro Bowl team, a feat Elliott didn’t accomplish this season.
Pollard’s explosiveness has even led to some analysts calling for the Cowboys to start the 25-year-old back over Elliott or move on from the latter altogether. Instead of making changes to the starting lineup any time soon, we could see the Cowboys faced with a much bigger decision regarding Pollard’s future with the team.
Once the Cowboys’ season concludes, Pollard’s rookie contract will expire, making him one of the top unrestricted free-agent running backs available this offseason. Unless, of course, the Cowboys can agree to a contract extension with their prized running back first.
Another possibility, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, is the Cowboys placing the franchise tag on Pollard. If, for whatever reason, Dallas isn’t able to come to terms on a long-term agreement with their halfback, the tag becomes an appropriate compromise, paying Pollard as a top-five player at his position while also buying more time to evaluate their ties to Elliott.
While expensive, franchise tag may be best for Dallas Cowboys, Tony Pollard
Elliott could be a candidate to be moved via trade this offseason. He has a $16.7 million cap number, and some are already suggesting he’s not the best running back on his own team.
Yet, the Cowboys can’t exactly afford to release Elliott, as it would incur a dead cap charge of $11.8M while saving just under five million. Cut him loose in 2024, and the cap charge shrinks to six million, saving Dallas eight million on their bottom line.
Best of all, keeping Pollard for just one year not only gives Dallas more time to evaluate their future with Elliott but also may help them better assess just how valuable Pollard is to their offense. Pollard may not be the starter now, but maybe by training camp, the Cowboys come to a different conclusion on how their depth chart should look.
We’re not saying an Elliott release or trade is where the Cowboys are immediately headed, but obviously, they will not be paying both Pollard and Elliott long-term. That’s just not how NFL teams operate as they try to save every last penny on the salary cap when it comes to valuing running backs in the modern era.
When it comes to keeping both Pollard and Elliott, something has to give. It’s only a matter of whether one departs the roster this offseason or at some point during the following year.