For just the second time in his career, Ezekiel Elliott had to miss a game due to an injury. That meant Tony Pollard got the start for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8 and he more than took advantage of the opportunity against the Chicago Bears.
Pollard had 15 total touches for 147 total yards and three touchdowns. Dallas won 49-29 and while there were several stars in this game, Pollard was the one who led the way and delivered big plays whenever they were needed.
Predictably, this performance brought up questions about the future of the running back position in Dallas. It’s no secret that Elliott hasn’t been very explosive recently and watching Pollard rip off a 54-yard touchdown in the fourth was a reminder of how much more tread he has on his tires.
Despite this, Jerry Jones continues to praise Elliott as the leader of the offense. Not long after the win, he made a very surprising comment, saying this team will still “go as Zeke goes.”
Jerry Jones recent comments prove the Cowboys are living in the past with their RB decisions
This comment in itself is problematic even if we don’t discuss the running backs’ value compared to one another. Claiming a running back is the one that makes the team click proves he continues to look at this game the wrong way.
Football in 2022 is all about the passing game. The Cowboys should know this since they agreed to pay Dak Prescott more than $40 million per season. They knew life without him could be rough and wanted to make sure they had their signal caller.
Every other team knows this, which is why franchises have mortgaged the future by sending multiple first-round picks for a star quarterback — see Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson as examples. What teams don’t do is sell assets for a running back.
Having said all that, Jones’s belief that they need Zeke more than Prescott, Parsons, and Lamb is wrong and should be insulting to each of those players. But that’s for another day. Let’s ask now what this game means for the future.
How does Tony Pollard’s Week 8 performance affect the future of the Cowboys’ running back room?
There has to be some hope that Jones is simply just praising his guy here and that he doesn’t truly think the way to a title is through an over-priced running back. Hopefully, he sees that Elliott is starting to wear down while Pollard is fresh since they’ve refused to give him many carries throughout his career.
This year, for example, Elliott still has more attempts than Pollard despite missing Week 8 with 109 compared to 81. Even so, he’s trailing him in every category. Heading into the bye, Elliott has 443 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 4.1 yards per attempt. Pollard now has 506 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 6.25 yards per rush.
For added measure, Pollard has 12 receptions for 121 yards compared to six for 32 yards. Simply put, Pollard is superior in every part of the game right now — and everyone outside of the Jones family saw this coming.
Of course, there was never a chance they would release Zeke this year due to the hit they would have taken on the cap. With how his deal is structured, there would have been more than $30 million in dead money, so he was playing for them in 2022. Looking forward to 2023 though, there’s an out for Dallas.
Should they release Elliott and designate him a post-June 1 cut, they could save $10.9 million while taking a cap hit of $5.8 million. It’s never ideal to take such a hit but they’ve shown in the past they’re willing to do so — see Jaylon Smith and Amari Cooper for examples.
Jones has also shown he will change his mind, or have it changed for him. One example was when he gave Terrell Owens a three-year extension only to release him months later. He also claimed he would draft Johnny Manziel, only to take Zack Martin.
In both of those cases, Stephen Jones stepped in and made the needed move. Here’s to hoping he does so again in 2023 because it’s unlikely they can keep Pollard (who will be a free agent this offseason) unless they do something about Elliott.
Right now, if you ask Jerry, he will say Elliott will be part of the team. But if the play continues on this trajectory, it feels like Stephen will step in and say they need to extend Pollard while saying goodbye to No. 21.
Regardless, Pollard’s performance means this team has major decisions to make in 2023. The RB2 has proved he can be an RB1, and he’s no longer a well-kept secret. If the Cowboys don’t pay him, someone else will.