It’s no secret that Cowboys running back Tony Pollard is not having a good year. He’s struggling as the primary back, which was especially highlighted last Sunday with Rico Dowdle’s superior numbers. But in an odd way, could Pollard’s down production actually help keep him in Dallas beyond 2023?
As the change-up runner behind Ezekiel Elliott for the last few years, Pollard’s been a potent weapon. It was enough to get him the franchise tag last spring, a one-year deal for $10.1 million. Pollard is one of the top-10 backs in the NFL in terms of compensation but has since plummeted in per-touch average (3.9 ypc) and per-game average (58.8 ypg). After scoring 12 total touchdowns in 2022 Pollard has two so far this year.
There are plenty of potential contributing factors. Pollard may not be all the way back from the lower leg injuries he suffered in the Cowboys’ playoff loss less than nine months ago. He may be struggling with schematic changes from Kellen Moore’s departure as offensive coordinator, perhaps not being used as well by Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer. Those changes seem to also be affecting the blocking up front, which directly impacts the runners. And of course, the role change from backup to starter could also be an issue.
All of this could make you think that Pollard isn’t long for this Cowboys’ world. He’s a free agent after this year and turns 27 in April, which is starting to become “old” in the current era of running backs. Dallas could easily move forward with Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, and a new back taken in the 2024 draft or a bargain signing in the next free agent market.
But given this down year, could Tony Pollard actually become that bargain? If the Cowboys believe Pollard’s issues are mostly due to the injury, they might be interested in giving him another year or two. This would be especially true if Dowdle or some new player takes over more of the early-down carries and allows Pollard to return to being a change-of-pace back.
We’re not saying that Dallas should bring Pollard back in 2024. But if this year was going well for him, the chances of that happening were pretty slim. The Cowboys appear to be getting out of the business of giving big contracts to running backs. They weren’t going to tag Pollard a second time and pay that big bump in salary, nor would they give him a multi-year deal. And while a 27-year-old running back may be on the older side these days for some teams, someone would’ve likely given Pollard a solid contract to help boost their offense.
But barring a dramatic change over the second half of the season and playoffs, Pollard doesn’t appear to be heading into the next offseason with much hype or leverage. It’s now more likely that he could accept a modest, role player’s level of compensation to stay with the only team he’s ever known. It might just be a one-year deal; a chance for Pollard to prove he’s fully recovered and improve his stock before the 2025 offseason while giving Dallas flexibility on the back end.
Again, the Cowboys could easily move on after this season. They have plenty of reasons to reduce payroll at running back and reallocate that money to other positions. But the irony here is that success was more likely to make 2023 Tony Pollard’s last season in Dallas, while the current struggles could make it easier for him to return.