Cowboys Urged to Bench Key Starter Heading Into Rivalry Matchup

Mike McCarthy

Getty Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy faces a decision at running back.

The Dallas Cowboys have two potential starting running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, which is a good problem to have. As the Cowboys prepare for their rivalry showdown against the Commanders, Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski argues that it is time for Dallas to make Pollard their RB1 while reducing Elliott’s touches.

“Elliott’s rushing yards per game have declined in each of the last five seasons,” Sobleski wrote on September 27. “Through three games, his production is shy of last year’s pace. The seventh-year runner already has 1,690 carries on his body, and the wear and tear show over time.

“If Pollard becomes the lead back, Elliott can benefit from fewer touches and maximize his opportunities when on the field. A similar setup occurred when the New Orleans Saints had Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara. After one season, the two flipped roles with Kamara getting the spotlight and Ingram serving as the hammer. Dallas should follow this blueprint.”

Statistically, Pollard Has Been the Better Running Back

Pollard is coming off his best game of the season, posting 13 carries for 105 yards, putting him at 28 rushes for 156 yards and one touchdown through the first three games. He also has six receptions for 69 yards so far this season.

By comparison, Elliott had 15 carries for 73 yards and one TD against New York. He has 40 carries and 178 yards with one touchdown so far this season. Pollard earned a 80.2 grade from Pro Football Focus for Week 3 and has a 74.3 score for the season. Elliott received a 74.6 grade against the Giants but has a disappointing 66.4 for the season.

The Cowboys Could Release Zeke After the Season

Dallas has 90 million reasons to keep Elliott as their lead back, but the one edge the former Pro Bowler has over Pollard is his pass protection. Elliott’s future with the Cowboys remains uncertain because in 2023, Dallas has an out in his deal that would allow the team to release him.

The challenge is, Dallas would still have to take a $11.8 million dead cap hit, but it would allow the Cowboys to move off of the final four years of Elliott’s deal. There is also the possibility that the Cowboys could restructure Elliott’s contract to make it more team friendly and allow the franchise to retain their star.

Pollard will be a free agent this coming offseason and is headed for a substantial raise from his current $965,000 salary. Heading into the season, owner Jerry Jones made it clear that Elliott will be the team’s RB1.

“We gotta have Tony Pollard out there. No, seriously, Zeke’s gotta be our feature, and he is our feature,” Jones told NFL Network during a July 30 interview. “We can feature him in a lot of different ways. We all recognize what he does in the passing game because of his protection ability. Don’t ever underestimate that especially with Zeke. Zeke takes some tolls when he’s out there as a back blocking. So it’s critical that we make Zeke — because he’s capable of being that — really the focus of what we’re doing. Now then, Pollard, there’s plenty of room for Pollard. There’s plenty of room for Pollard when Zeke’s in there. Pollard needs to get the ball.”

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