The Dallas Cowboys could make a surprising decision on the future of Tony Pollard.
According to a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Sunday, January 22, the Cowboys might retain Pollard by applying the franchise tag to him. The 25-year-old running back will be a free agent this offseason and applying the franchise tag would cost Dallas a projected $10.1 million next year.
“They don’t like to lose good players,’ said Rapoport. “They like to keep their good players. They want to keep Tony Pollard as he heads into free agency. Do not rule out the use of the franchise tag. It is something the Cowboys would consider. It would be about $10 million. Put that together with Zeke, a lot of money at one position.”
Cowboys Could Face Expensive Running Back Room
The idea of bringing Pollard back is not surprising at all. The young running back is coming off of a Pro Bowl campaign, spearheading Dallas’ top 10-ranked rushing attack. Pollard is one of the most versatile backs in the league, rushing for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns on 5.2 yards per carry to go along with 39 receptions for 371 yards and three touchdowns.
However, giving him the franchise tag — a short-term commitment that would make Pollard a free agent once again in 2024 — is a little bit surprising. If the Cowboys do go that route, that would seem to indicate Dallas is bringing back Ezekiel Elliott, who is the second-highest paid running back at a cap hit of $16.7 million for the 2023 season.
As Bleacher Report’s Joseph Zucker points out, bringing back both Pollard and Elliott for the 2023 season is a “costly endeavor.”
“The franchise tag would set Pollard’s salary at a projected $10.1 million for next year.” said Zucker. “Dallas already has Ezekiel Elliott signed for $16.7 million, so rostering both would be a costly endeavor. Cutting Elliott could be an option when the moment comes. Releasing or trading him before June 1 would carry an $11.9 million dead cap hit but save $4.9 million. Identifying him as a post-June 1 cut would spread his dead money hit across 2023 ($5.8 million) and 2024 ($6 million) while saving $10.9 million.”
Why the Cowboys May Bring Back Elliott With Pollard
The 27-year-old Elliott remains the team’s workhorse at running back, outpacing Pollard in carries, 231-to-193. However, it’s clear he’s on the downslide, as he ran for just 876 yards on 3.8 yards per carry this season. Furthermore, he had just five carries of 20 or more yards, four less than Pollard’s total.
With that being said, it has yet to be proven that Pollard can carry the full load of being a full-time back. In fact, Pollard had over 15 carries in a game just twice this season. When factoring in how Dallas uses him in the passing game, it would probably be unwise to rely on Pollard as the full-time No. 1 back.
This puts the Cowboys in a position where they likely need to team a running mate with Pollard to maximize the explosiveness of the young back.
Dallas has one of two options — either restructure Elliott’s contract and bring Pollard back, or sign another veteran running back in free agency and team him up with Pollard.
Either way, it looks like a lock that Pollard will be back with the Cowboys — whether that’s on the franchise tag or a long-term contract.