The Dallas Cowboys are heading into an important offseason in 2023, and the futures of a few key players are up in the air as the draft and free agency approaches.
Dallas has multiple key players set to become free agents when the window opens, namely running back Tony Pollard. The former Memphis Tiger led the Cowboys in rushing in 2023, but his future is far from certain.
For Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport, Dallas needs to avoid bringing back the fifth-year rusher. In a recent story advising teams to avoid re-signing certain players, Davenport drops the Cowboys as a team that should avoid bringing back a running back, along with the Las Vegas Raiders and New York Giants.
“It’s also a bad idea for the New York Giants to give Saquon Barkley a long-term deal,” Davenport begins. “The same goes with the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Pollard, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain and fractured fibula that required surgery.”
Navigating the current situation with Pollard and fellow running back Ezekiel Elliott will be difficult no matter what, but committing to a new running back in the draft or in free agency would make things simpler and likely more affordable.
Dallas Facing Cap Puzzle
Under Spotrac’s current estimation, the Cowboys are $7.6 million over the salary cap limit for their first 51 players, and $10.6 million over the limit for all currently contracted players. In terms of players that take up the most space, Elliott clocks in at No. 5.
Zeke is due $16.7 million in 2023, the current highest cap hit of any running back in 2023. Considering the back’s role was cut into significantly in 2021 and 2022 by Pollard, that salary almost certainly has to change.
But even if Dallas releases Zeke after the June 1 designation and saves $10.9 million, fitting Pollard’s new contract would essentially utilize all of the savings. Spotrac projects a $9 million average salary in their market value projections for the 25-year-old.
As Davenport mentions, committing to Pollard long-term as the No. 1 back is risky. Despite taking on a bigger role, he has yet to play a season as the Cowboys’ lead back while also recovering from multiple injuries.
Cowboys, Elliott Have ‘Stare Down’
On February 17, Heavy NFL insider Matt Lombardo reported that the Cowboys may ask Elliott to take a pay cut in order to stay with the team.
“The Dallas Cowboys could be on the verge of giving Ezekiel Elliott an ultimatum, as the franchise and running back appear locked in a stare-down as the offseason begins,” Lombardo said. “According to multiple league sources familiar with the running back market, I’m told the Cowboys are poised to ask Elliott to take a ‘massive pay cut’ in order to stay with the team.”
Getting Elliott to agree to a cheaper contract would go a long way to figuring out what the team’s running back group will look like in 2023. If that happens, a deal with Pollard could be struck, or the Cowboys could add a new back to keep the positional group’s cap hit relatively low.
But rather than a new contract, Lombardo foresees Dallas using the franchise tag on Pollard instead. If that happens, they’ll likely pay Pollard $10 million for the 2023 season according to Over the Cap’s projections.