4 p.m. EST on Monday, July 17th.
That’s when we will know what the Dallas Cowboys' true intentions are with their star running back Tony Pollard. The team will either lock him into a new deal securing his services for more years to come or they will allow him to play under the $10.1 million tag price this upcoming season and cut off any additional negotiations, allowing him to hit the free agent market in 2024. Recently, we’ve heard reports that Pollard is open to working a new deal with the Cowboys. But will that actually happen? We will know our answer in less than a month.
The Pollard situation is a tricky one. On one hand, he’s a Pro Bowler who is clearly one of the best offensive players on this team and it seems obvious that the front office would want to keep him. On the other hand, he’s a running back. The running back position takes a toll on players and the more accepted philosophy of most teams is to just change them out with fresher, lower-cost players. You could make either case with Pollard, and that’s exactly what we’re doing today as we try to wrap our minds around how the Cowboys should handle this situation.
The case for extending him
Pollard is an explosive player. He’s on a very short list of players on this team that can go from zero to the end zone in the blink of an eye. He possesses both the shiftiness and home run speed to turn small gains into large ones and that’s been on full display over the last few seasons. Pollard has been in the league for four years and his efficiency is still high as he has a career average of 5.1 yards per carry, and last year running at 5.2 YPC. He led the Cowboys in rushing last year despite having few carries than his running mate Ezekiel Elliott, and that’s a feat that hasn’t been done in Dallas in over 50 years. In fact, Pollard is the only Cowboys running back to ever rush for over 1,000 yards with less than 200 carries. Bottom line, Pollard makes the most of his opportunities.
Make no mistake about it, Pollard isn’t a gadget player. He has proven he can run through the tackles with efficiency. His toughness is underrated and his pass protection continues to improve. He has also shown he can be a strong weapon in the passing game despite not getting as many opportunities as we’d like. He is one of just two running backs last year (Derrick Henry is the other) who rushed for over 1,000 yards and averaged over nine yards per reception. Some say you should never pay for running backs unless they are also formidable receiving weapons, and Pollard just so happens to fit that description.
NO BACKUP PLAN
The Cowboys' new running back additions this year consists of free agent Ronald Jones, who is only on a one-year deal, and sixth-round draft pick Deuce Vaughn. Both these players have big questions in terms of what they can bring with Jones going missing-in-action in Kansas City last year and Vaughn being considerably undersized for the NFL. If the Cowboys plan on moving on from Pollard, it's very possible they have no viable replacement currently on the roster.
The case for letting him walk
RUNNING BACKS REALLY DON’T MATTER
Whether you subscribe to this theory or not, there is overwhelming evidence that shows a very short shelf life to running back efficiency. Nothing details that better than Zeke’s repeated decline in yards per game throughout every single year of his seven seasons in the league. Every. Single. Year. Running backs wear down. It’s just how things go. Pollard makes the team's fourth Pro Bowl RB over the last 15 years. All three of the previous ones, Marion Barber III, DeMarco Murray, and Elliott all got big second contracts from someone, and all three were eventually cut loose with the team eating a bunch of dead money. Could Pollard be an exception to the norm? Possibly, but like a Hunger Games participant, the odds are not in his favor.
One thing Pollard doesn’t have compared to other NFL running backs entering his fifth season is a lot of wear. He has just 510 rushing attempts so far, which is 54 fewer than Zeke had after just two seasons. And his wear in college was even less as he only had 139 career carries at Memphis. In fact, in his final year in college, he was the third-string running back with just 78 carries behind Darrell Henderson (drafted by the Rams) and Patrick Taylor Jr. (played for the Packers the last two years) who each had over 200 carries. In short, Pollard has always been used as a complementary back and never as a workhorse. Even in Dallas when his effectiveness was hands-down better than Elliott’s, the Cowboys coaching staff was mindful of his usage as he started gassing out late in games (big touchdown runs will do that to you). Pollard operates best when he paces himself and that’s not something that you’d expect to demand top running back money.
Who wouldn’t love to have Pollard on the team? Nobody. But the reason this is even up for debate is that keeping him around eats up cap space. The Cowboys have shown themselves to be thrifty spenders and that has led to a handful of recent Pro Bowl offensive stars leaving Dallas. The reason for this is that they want to use those funds elsewhere where it would have a better overall effect on strengthening the team. For the Cowboys to re-up on Pollard, they have to believe the juice is worth the squeeze. Maybe it is, after all, he has quite a bit of juice. But if the Cowboys' brain trust feels they could supplement some of that juice at a lower cost, you better believe they’ll do it.
Should the Cowboys give Tony Pollard a contract extension?
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