Anybody who watches the Cowboys — HELL, anyone who watches football! — knows who the best running back in Dallas is. It’s not the former No. 4 overall pick getting paid $15 million a year. It’s 2019 fourth-round selection, Tony Pollard. Even prior to last Sunday’s game, there’d been shouting from Cowboys fans across the nation for change. In between incoherent cries of “This is our year!” and “We dem boyz!” were utterances of Pollard’s greatness. Everyone knew that with Ezekiel Elliott out, Pollard wouldn’t just shine, he’d thrive. Boy, did he.
Pollard tied his career best in yards and broke into the end zone for a career-high three scores. He also added one reception for 16 yards. To put that in perspective, since the start of the 2019 season, Zeke has had only two games with that many or more rushing yards. The most recent of which came on Oct. 3, 2020, more than two years ago. It took Pollard one game to have a better game than Zeke has had in over two years.
WOW! Anyone in their right mind would certainly make Pollard the team’s starter moving forward, right? After all, the Cowboys are 6-2, just 1.5-games back of the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles. Wouldn’t they want to put their literal best foot forward for the remainder of the season?
Well, I guess not.
Despite Pollard’s incredible performance, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seems insistent on keeping Elliott as the team’s lead back. Now, you could say to yourself “He’s the owner, not the coach. Does he really have any say?” That’s a legitimate question. Perhaps Mike McCarthy and company will opt to use Pollard more frequently moving forward against Jones’ wishes. That said, Jones still has a lot of say in how the Cowboys operate and anything he says shouldn’t be disregarded.
The Cowboys are paying Elliott a lot of money, so it makes sense that they’d want to continue using him at a high rate. What about next year though?
Despite four years remaining on Zeke’s contract after 2022, Dallas has an out built in after this season. The dead cap hit would be a tad under $12 million, but that’s pennies compared to what it would’ve been had the Cowboys cut Zeke prior to the 2022 season ($30,080,000). This opt-out was created in case of an emergency, in case Elliott was no longer needed. Sure, the Cowboys would love to have a great RB duo behind quarterback Dak Prescott, but $15 million a year for an inefficient RB being outclassed by his backup? That’s not worth it.
Could the Cowboys take the out and re-negotiate a new contract befitting of his new role moving forward? Absolutely! But I doubt Zeke would take to that very kindly. If Dallas opts out of the contract, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zeke tries to find a role elsewhere and ends up in a similar situation to what happened with Le’Veon Bell in 2018 — that is, thinking a team would be willing to pay up for him, but no one biting, then being forced to play for less money than he would’ve made under his new contract with the Cowboys.
There is also a chance that the Cowboys don’t opt out at all. This would be stupid considering that Pollard’s 9.31 yards per carry this past Sunday are better than anything Elliott has done for the entirety of his career, but I wouldn’t put it past them. The argument could be made that Pollard’s legs were fresh, having not been burdened by a workhorse back’s workload for the first seven weeks, but people said the same stuff about Austin Ekeler several years ago — and now look where Ekeler is. These are NFL athletes. They know how to keep in shape (some people would say that Elliott doesn’t, but I won’t go there), and they know how to adjust to increased workloads.
Pollard is younger, cheaper, and more explosive than his backfield counterpart. He deserves the lead role. He better get that opportunity next season.