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Dallas Cowboys mailbag: Running back questions in free agency and the draft

People have questions about the Cowboys, and we strive to provide the answers.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Every week, we will be taking questions on Twitter about Dallas Cowboys players and other questions surrounding the team. So let’s get right into it.

@DonnyKing: There’s a lot of chatter for Dallas drafting Bijan Robinson in the first round, while I like him, wouldn’t it be a waste of a first-round pick since some believe running backs don’t deserve a 2nd contract? Especially when you can get good production from say Mo Ibrahim in the 5th/6th round?

Brandon: You’re correct. The value of a running back in the NFL is not what it used to be. Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley might be the last backs to be picked in the top five of the draft. When it comes to Bijan Robinson, he would deserve to be taken top ten, but that’s not how the draft works anymore. However, when it gets to the end of the first round, like the Cowboys’ position, Robinson would be outstanding value there. Taking his running back title away, Robinson might be one of the top five players in the entire draft. Getting him at No. 26 would be great for Dallas. Also, the benefit of taking a running back first round is the fifth-year option on the contract, which allows another season to keep the player. It all depends on who’s there, but I’d take Robinson at No. 26 over almost anyone else that’ll be there.

Mike: Mo Ibrahim from Minnesota on my board is a sixth-round prospect, but to take him a round early wouldn’t be bad for the Cowboys. My issues for him as a fit in Dallas is in the passing game. His issues of separation and lack of usage in the passing is a problem for how he would fit in Dallas under the Mike McCarthy system. Mike wants running backs with plenty of versatility and can be an option on passing plays, just like he had in Green Bay. From chatter over the last week though, Robinson will more than likely be gone by pick 26. He won’t get past Tampa Bay is the latest buzz.

@TrishMartinez: I’m sure going to miss Zeke. I hate getting used to players and then they’re gone. What’s your favorite Zeke highlight?

Brandon: Trish, you bring up a great point. We get used to seeing these players every week, and then suddenly they’re gone, and you wish we had more time. But the beautiful part about being a fan is enjoying the ride with franchise players. My favorite highlight about Elliott had nothing to do with him on the field. In the locker room from his rookie season to last season, Zeke remained the same charismatic person with the media and teammates. When Dak Prescott went down with his injury in 2020, Elliott stepped up as the team leader and ensured the Cowboys didn’t give up on the season. That’ll be something I’ll never forget.

Mike: So many highlights when it comes to Zeke, where to even start. Maybe let’s go to the start of it all when we watched Zeke get his name called by Dallas at the NFL Draft and seeing how much that meant to him. What made that moment great was the reaction of his mother who stood with him at the time. Fantastic draft moment. Another highlight for me would be the Thanksgiving tradition Zeke created by jumping into the Salvation Army red kettle. Not just hilarious to watch and how he slowly came back up but also how that began a string of red kettle celebrations each year.

@LloydPoland: Will losing Zeke hurt Dak’s game? They were incredibly close friends on the team and Zeke was very involved in blocking for Dak.

Brandon: Spending your entire career with a player and the next day they’re no longer there will be challenging for anyone to get used to. Dak Prescott recently mentioned how it hurts but knows good feelings are coming. Trading for Brandin Cooks could have been what he was alluding to. Given how close they are, Zeke and Dak won’t lose touch, so I’m sure they’ll be in communication throughout the season. As far as his on-field production goes, Prescott seemed to lean on CeeDee Lamb more than ever last season. He should be able to fill the void left by Elliott both on and off the field.

Mike: It will take Dak some time to adjust for sure. As pointed out it would be the close connection these two have both on and off the field that Dak will miss the most. The steady presence of Zeke next to Dak in the locker room and in the huddle is something the Cowboys quarterback is going to have get used to not having around. How that effects Dak as a quarterback may not be as dramatic though. We have seen Dak play without Zeke by his side and Tony Pollard has proven he’s a solid runner and ready to take on the full time role. What is the largest change on offense that the team will need to figure out will be those short-yardage situations on third-down that Zeke was called on to convert. Pollard isn’t one for powering through on those third and one gains, so Dak and Mike McCarthy will need to go back and take a look at how they will call those situations now Zeke has departed.

@AllanWoods: Zeke is an example of offering a running back a second contract. Have we seen the end of the Jones’ making this mistake?

Brandon: It all depends. Elliott was a star-caliber running back in the beginning, but a six-year contract never looked like it would age well from the start. However, seeing what the team does with Tony Pollard will be interesting. Do they see him being a great running back for the next five years, given he didn’t get as many carries being a No. 2 to Elliott? Do they see him being a bridge player for the next two seasons to whoever they draft this year? I think it’s somewhere in the middle for the Cowboys. They understand the value Pollard brings to the offense and know a six-year deal is out of the question. Dallas might sign Pollard for two seasons and see what happens. So they might offer second contracts to running backs but at a lower cost/higher reward.

Mike: I have said on the mailbag before that drafting a running back early isn’t a bad move. Depending on the roster composition and talent level of the running back prospect, drafting one high or in the first round can make sense in some regard. What can be tough with taking one so high is that historically and statistically running backs are most productive during their rookie contract, so when teams sign these backs beyond that initial contract, they are paying for what they were and not what they will become. Will Jerry Jones and company draft a running back again in the first? That goes back to the original statement of it all depends on the roster at the time and talent level of the player. It’s very possible in some people’s opinion that the Cowboys will draft a running back in the first this year. I’m not a fan of that option, but for the front office, if they value the player high enough it could very well happen.

@BrianRayl: Why is everyone calling for/mocking TE or RB in round 1? We have holes in many areas. We need O Line and DT.

Brandon: It’s all about drafting the best player available. The Cowboys have proven to be that way, regardless if they already have depth at a specific position. For instance, Dallas drafted CeeDee Lamb, knowing they had Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the roster. Lamb was too good of a player to pass up. Running back and tight end are certainly two positions that go deep in the first round, but if they have someone graded higher at either position over an offensive lineman or defensive tackle, they’ll take them. Three of the top four tight ends might be better pass catchers than any of the wideouts in the class. Bijan Robinson is an all-around back that is more than just running the football. My advice would be to trust what the Cowboys do in the first round because they certainly have the track record to earn some trust.

Mike: Agreed there are many priorities for Dallas this year in the draft. But look at it this way on drafting a tight end in the first. Where did the teams that Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Dallas Goedert finish in the playoffs? These players are arguably the best players at their position. The tight end position is hard to cover in the modern day game and having a talented one can create huge mismatches on offense. We all know how much Dak likes to target his tight ends and taking one that can dominate the middle field and separate tick so many boxes for Dak.

Yes it’s true the players mentioned above were taken in rounds in day two or three of the draft, but taking one this year high in the draft helps reduce the levels of uncertainty of the later-round prospects. None of this though is to say that Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot aren’t good enough in their roles, but both need further development and Dalton Schultz is probably on the move, so why not get that solid tight end to be that safety valve for Dak.

As for drafting a defensive tackle, I would love to see that but the front office just doesn’t value the position high as we’ve seen for many years.

@JessWarren: Are we going to go for a rookie RB in the draft or could we go for a free agent?

Brandon: Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Kansas City Chief Ronald Jones will be visiting the Cowboys on Monday, so the Cowboys are exploring outside options. The free agent pool of running backs is not worth the investment if Dallas can find one in the draft. The player would have a higher upside and be under contract for at least four years. Dallas already has Malik Davis as the incumbent backup to Tony Pollard, so if they want to give him more snaps, it would be better to draft a rookie.

Mike: There is no doubt they will look to draft at the position this year. Not sure they would go in the free agent pool to get one since the cost would be high as it always is in free agency, but also most of those players can be found in the draft. Round three or later for what the Cowboys are looking for is the sweet spot for running back this year. A guy like Tyjae Spears from Tulane or even if they wanted to go later for a guy like Kenny McIntosh from Georgia are fantastic value and fit Dallas nicely. Most people talk about Devon Achane from Texas A&M, who I love. But for the style of player he currently is there are parts of his game that need refinement that make it difficult to agree with his second-round value.

Be sure to check @kenfigkowboy and @brandoniswrite on Twitter for the weekly post, asking you for your questions for the weekly mailbag

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