A Pro Bowl star could be in the midst of his final season with the Dallas Cowboys.
As mentioned by Jess Haynie of SB Nation’s Blogging the Boys, running back Tony Pollard is not having a good season. In his first season as the Cowboys’ featured back, the 26-year-old is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry and has been ineffective in the red zone with just two rushing touchdowns to show.
Haynie mentions Pollard’s declining statistics as the featured back compared to his efficiency as a complementary back alongside starter Ezekiel Elliott last season.
“As the change-up runner behind Ezekiel Elliott for the last few years, Pollard’s been a potent weapon,” writes Haynie. “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.”
Tony Pollard’s Efficiency Has Seen Stark Decline as Featured Back
Pollard was one of the league’s most efficient runners over the past two seasons, averaging 5.2 yards per carry during the 2022 season (seventh-best in the NFL) and 5.5 yards per carry during the 2021 season (fifth-best in the NFL). To top it all off, he actually posted 12 total touchdowns in 2022, the eighth-best mark in the NFL.
However, this season has seen Pollard’s efficiency declined drastically. It could be due to wear and tear with Pollard ranking seventh in the league with 164 touches. It’s worth noting Pollard never led the Cowboys in carries or touches prior to this season. Or it could be the change in offensive philosophy with Mike McCarthy taking over for former offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
Cowboys Hold Leverage in Contract Talks With Tony Pollard
Whatever the case may be, the lack of efficiency is working against Pollard as he seeks to gain a long-term contract in the offseason. With Pollard currently playing under the $10.1 million franchise tag, the Cowboys could simply allow him to walk in free agency. Or they could seek to sign him to a cheap deal that brings him back for another season.
Long story short, all of the leverage is in the Cowboys’ hands — especially when you factor in the weakened market for running backs.
“Again, the Cowboys could easily move on after this season,” writes Haynie. “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.”
Despite his decline in production, Spotrac still projects Pollard to have a market value of $10.7 million per year across three seasons for a total of $32.3 million. However, it’s hard to envision Pollard garnering that type of contract from any team. When one factors in that the offseason’s biggest running back signing — Miles Sanders of the Carolina Panthers — has completely flopped in his first season with his new team and that Jonathan Taylor has struggled — averaging just 3.8 yards per carry — after signing his three-year, $42 million extension with the Indianapolis Colts, Pollard doesn’t have any leverage.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Cowboys do at running back in the offseason. They could allow Pollard to walk and draft a young runner, bring back Rico Dowdle as the starter or simply bring Pollard back at a reduced rate.