The Dallas Cowboys are 4-1 and frankly don’t have much to complain about. They’ve won four straight games with backup Cooper Rush under center. Two of those wins came against last year’s Super Bowl participants, and the other two came against NFC East foes. Dallas’ defense has been one of the league’s most dominant units, and Rush has done a great job of managing games and limiting mistakes.
But lost in all of that is a backfield situation that’s getting murkier by the week, and Dallas’ Week 5 win over the Los Angeles Rams was no exception.
Once again, it was Tony Pollard doing more with fewer touches than Ezekiel Elliott. Once again, it was Pollard who looked like the tailback with more burst and acceleration. Once again, it was Elliott who looked like he’d lost a step after years of heavy usage.
Pollard rushed eight times for 82 yards and scored the team’s only offensive touchdown on a 57-yard run that was reminiscent of what Elliott used to look like. Zeke on the other hand plodded his way to 78 yards on 22 carries.
On the season, Elliott has 305 yards on 81 carries, while Pollard has 248 yards on just 44 handoffs. A five-game sample size isn’t huge, but it’s enough to indicate that Pollard is the more efficient, and maybe more talented running back. The Dallas backfield has been a 65-35 split thus far in Elliott’s favor. If Mike McCarthy were smart, he’d make it more of a timeshare.
Jerry Jones pride a factor?
Dallas’ backfield usage reeks of Jerry Jones struggling to admit that signing Elliott to a six-year, $90 million extension in 2019 was a massive mistake. Elliott is still a solid player, but his last great season came in 2019, and he hasn’t looked the same since.
The Cowboys will have a very tough decision to make during the 2023 offseason. The team has an opportunity to get out of the Elliott contract, although they wouldn’t get off scot-free. Dallas would have to eat $11.86 million in dead cap while saving $4.86 million if they cut Elliott before June 1, 2023. The problem with that is it would significantly eat into the $14 million in cap space Dallas is projected to have entering the 2023 offseason, according to OvertheCap.com.
And while cutting Elliott might make sense, it also wouldn’t solve the problem. Why? Because Pollard’s contract is up after this season. Cutting Elliott limits how much Dallas can spend on Pollard, so the Cowboys likely can’t afford to commit to both of them.
Plus, Pollard could be one of the most coveted free agent backs out there as a three-down back with limited mileage. He certainly will make more than the $1 million, which is what he’s earning in Dallas in 2022.
This leaves Dallas in an incredibly difficult position. The smartest football move would be to cut Elliott and commit to Pollard. But that solution most likely isn’t financially feasible. My guess is Dallas has no choice but to let Pollard walk this offseason while turning to the draft to find another young, complementary tailback to run alongside Elliott, whose contract is much easier to get out of after the 2023 season.