The Dallas Cowboys’ season came to another premature end Sunday night. Mike McCarthy’s squad fell to the rival San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Divisional Playoffs by the score of 19-12.
Dallas’ defense was more than up to the task against a high-flying 49ers offense. Unfortunately, two more interceptions from Dak Prescott and an injury to star running back Tony Pollard doomed the Cowboys. The end result was a 27th consecutive season without as much as an appearance in the NFC Championship Game.
The ‘Boys now head into the offseason with some questions on both sides of the ball. Pollard is slated to become a free agent. Running back Ezekiel Elliott could have played his final game in Big D. Below, we look at three moves Dallas must make this offseason in order to return to championship contention in 2023.
Dallas Cowboys have to re-sign Tony Pollard
We have no idea how the NFC Divisional Playoffs would’ve turned out if Pollard had not suffered a broken leg late in the first half against San Francisco. The former fourth-round pick from Memphis was among Dallas’ most-dynamic offensive weapons during the regular season, going for nearly 1,400 total yards and scoring 12 touchdowns.
The question now becomes whether these Cowboys can re-sign Pollard without placing the franchise tag on him. The tag is expected to be valued at $10.1 million for running backs. Dallas finds itself just $5.86 million under the projected 2023 cap. Re-signing Pollard on a long-term deal to lower his 2023 number should definitely be in the cards this offseason.
Add a top-flight guard to the mix
Dallas relied too much on a backup-caliber guard in that of Connor McGovern during the 2022 season. It also opted to play rookie Tyler Smith at guard with the 41-year-old Jason Peters starting at left tackle to open the playoffs. Smith was brilliant protecting Dak Prescott’s blindside and should be a full-time left tackle moving forward. With future Hall of Famers Zack Martin and Tyron Smith manning two other offensive line spots, left guard is the only real hole here.
Jerry Jones and Co. should do the financial work necessary that will enable them to bring in a top-end guard during NFL free agency this coming March. Denver Broncos veteran Dalton Risner and Chris Lindstrom of the Atlanta Falcons come to mind as two options.
Dallas Cowboys move on from Ezekiel Elliott, others
Simply put, Elliott is a shell of his former self. The veteran averaged a mere 3.8 yards per rush this past regular season. His final four games, playoffs included, saw the former All-Pro average two yards per rush on 50 attempts. That’s just brutal.
Dallas can save $10.9 million against the cap by designating Elliott a post-June 1 cut. In this scenario, the team adds another young back to go with Pollard via the 2023 NFL Draft. It just makes too much sense in a modern NFL where finances play a huge role.
In addition to Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys have decisions to make with the likes of Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker. Moving off those two would save another $8 million.
We fully expect Dallas to restructure the contracts of Dak Prescott, Demarcus Lawrence, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin to lower their 2023 cap figures. But if this team is going to be active in free agency, it needs to move off Elliott and others. It’s that simple.