Cowboys Could Cut $12 Million Star to Sign Pro Bowler, Says Analyst

Jerry Jones

Getty Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones throws up a thumbs up before an NFL game.

The Dallas Cowboys could make a major shakeup in the backfield this offseason with Tony Pollard hitting free agency. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell believes the Cowboys will explore cutting Ezekiel Elliott in an attempt to re-sign Pollard. Barnwell predicts that Pollard will earn a new deal with an average annual salary of $10 million.

“In May, I argued the evidence from last season suggested the Cowboys should move Pollard into the primary role ahead of Ezekiel Elliott,” Barnwell wrote on January 19, 2023. “This was controversial at the time and seems obvious now, which is a product of how impressive he has been during a breakout 2022 campaign.

“…Dallas’ salary-cap decisions from last offseason make it clear they’ll cut Elliott this offseason to create cap space. Using that room to re-sign Pollard would hardly be a surprise, but he should see a strong market in free agency. Second running back deals rarely work out, but his modest workloads in Dallas and receiving ability make his closest comp Austin Ekeler, who turned out to be a bargain. It would be a surprise if Pollard’s new deal came south of $10 million per season.”

The Cowboys Would Eat $11.86 Million If Zeke Is Cut

The Cowboys have been slow to move Pollard into the feature back role despite the playmaker appearing to be much more explosive than Elliott. The playoffs may be a different story as Pollard earned 18 touches compared to Elliott’s 14 during Dallas’ playoff victory over Tampa Bay.

Elliott is slated to have a $10.9 million salary for 2023 and still has four seasons remaining on his massive six-year, $90 million contract. Dallas could release Elliott this offseason but will still take an $11.86 million dead cap hit. This may be preferable for the franchise given Elliott is slated to make more than $50 million on the remainder of a deal that runs through 2026.

There is another scenario where Elliott agrees to restructure his contract instead of the Cowboys releasing the star running back. Dallas would have some leverage as the 27-year-old back is unlikely to find a new deal anywhere close to his current contract if the former Pro Bowler suddenly becomes a free agent.

Pollard Is Projected to Land a 3-Year, $25.4 Million Contract in Free Agency

Pollard is sure to have plenty of suitors in free agency and is due for a sizable raise from his current four-year, $3.1 million rookie contract. The playmaker is coming off his first Pro Bowl campaign notching 193 carries for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns during 16 appearances in the regular season.

Pollard added 39 receptions for 371 yards and three TDs through the air. By comparison, Elliott notched 231 rushes for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns. Spotrac projects Pollard’s market value to be a three-year, $25.4 million contract giving the running back an $8.4 million average annual salary. Pollard shot down the notion that he cannot “handle the punishment” of being a team’s lead running back.

“I definitely can handle the punishment,” Pollard told The Athletic’s Dan Pompei for a January 12 feature. “I could see myself being a feature back, but for the time being, I’m fine. I feel this league is going away from using one go-to back. You need at least two nowadays, and it makes it a lot easier on both backs.”

Dallas will be forced to make some difficult decisions this offseason with the team projected to have just $5.8 million in cap space for 2023. The Cowboys have a number of key players hitting free agency including Pollard, Dalton Schultz, Leighton Vander Esch, Connor McGovern, Cooper Rush and Terence Steele. Dallas could opt to use the franchise tag on Pollard which would give the running back an estimated $10.1 million salary for next season, per Over the Cap.