When the Dallas Cowboys selected running back Tony Pollard with the 128 pick in the 2019 draft, they never could have imagined the impact he would have today. At Memphis, Pollard was an incredible receiving threat from the backfield, as well as a dynamic kick returner. He was drafted with the intention of continuing this role in Dallas, simply serving as a complementary backup to star Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott had just came off of an incredible season in 2018, rushing 304 times for 1,434 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The selection of Pollard made a lot of sense at the time, as probably the biggest weakness in Elliott’s game was his impact in the receiving game.
Fast forward to this current 2022 season, and Pollard is not only proving to be the more explosive player, he is proving his doubters wrong that he is too brittle to handle a primary role. Pollard is having the best season of his career through 12 games. He has 148 carries for 852 yards, and eight rushing touchdowns. He is averaging an incredible 5.8 yards per carry. He is also having a big impact in the receiving game, with 25 receptions for 259 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns.
tony pollard has cleared 20 fantasy points in four of his last five games pic.twitter.com/8fIFa3nApD— NFL Fantasy Football (@NFLFantasy) December 5, 2022
Tony Pollard became the third Cowboys running back to win NFC Offensive Player of the Week since 1990 (Emmitt Smith and Ezekiel Elliott). Pollard had a career-high 189 total yards in 40-3 win over Vikings, including TD catches of 30 and 68 yards. pic.twitter.com/EAuU8YQJyw— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) November 23, 2022
Pollard could not have picked a better time in his career to break out, as he is a looming free agent this upcoming offseason. While the one-two punch of Pollard and Elliott is undoubtedly the best in the league, the front office may be faced with a difficult decision this offseason when it comes to financials.
Elliott is currently playing on a six-year contract with a total value of $90 million. His 2022 salary currently sits at $12.4 million. While Elliott has been an incredibly consistent piece for the team throughout his career, his numbers have declined over the years, and age could be playing a factor. Some could argue Elliott has lost his explosion that he had from 2016-2019. After this season, Elliott’s contract will complete its guaranteed money obligations, and the front office will have a potential out in his contract.
Earlier in this past offseason, Cowboys insider Bobby Belt of 105.3 The Fan, had this to say about Elliott and his contract:
“Zeke could rush for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns this year and I think he’s still probably done here,” Belt told the podcast. “They need to move on. That contract has been such an albatross for them, one of the worst deals in football and, as much as they love his toughness and things like that, it’s about time to rip off the Band-Aid. He’s not the same player anymore.”
It is unfortunate timing for Elliott that this potential out in his contract lines up directly with the same offseason that Pollard is expected to bring in a huge contract. Elliott is a deserving fan-favorite in Dallas. Ever since he was drafted in 2016, his character and charisma has garnered appreciation from the fans. With that being said, even Elliott acknowledges that Pollard deserves as many touches as possible.
“I truly believe our team is better off when (Tony Pollard) is getting his touches,” explained Elliott to NBC Sports (via Jon Machota of The Athletic). “He’s so explosive…Last year, I had to really come around to it and it definitely was a little hard at first but at the end of the day what’s important is the team.”
This quote just speaks to the character of Elliott, and is a clear example of why he is so loved in the Cowboys locker room. However, the front office needs to be realistic about this situation. Pollard is clearly the better running back right now. Through 12 games, Pollard has five touchdowns of 30+ yards, the most by a running back in franchise history. Pollard is also the better receiving threat, is younger, and likely won’t cost as much as the contract that Elliott previously signed for.
In an ideal world, where there is no salary cap, and money and opportunity did not matter, the Cowboys would just keep both. There is no question this team is more dangerous with both Elliott and Pollard on the same team, as opposed to just one. Despite this, the front office will likely have to choose one or the other this upcoming offseason, and the answer is clearly is extending Pollard and letting Elliott go.