The Dallas Cowboys’ running back conundrum is one of the offseason’s biggest storylines.
Seemingly everyone thinks the team should release Ezekiel Elliott given his rapid decline and bloated 2023 cap hit. There isn’t a preference about what Dallas should do with Tony Pollard, but most of Cowboys Nation understands the plus side of franchise-tagging him for just over $10 million.
Some would prefer it if the front office reset the money at the position altogether — i.e. release Elliott and let Pollard walk as a free agent.
That would allow the Cowboys to use a high draft pick on a prospect, like Texas’ Bijan Robinson or Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs. Even Devon Achane of Texas A&M, TCU’s Kendre Miller, and Tyjae Spears of Tulane could step into prominent roles as mid-round prospects.
One scenario that hasn’t been floated is Dallas cutting bait with both Elliott and Pollard, and signing a free agent to replace them. That seems unlikely, but CBS’ Cody Benjamin’s free agency predictions have the Cowboys making a splash that would break the NFL.
Try to envision Saquon Barkley with a star on his helmet.
Is Giants star Saquon Barkley a realistic free agent target for the Cowboys?
"Can you imagine? Barkley is certainly worthy of an earlier pick, but at a devalued position, you can see why he’d slide. With Tony Pollard headed for free agency and Ezekiel Elliott’s future unclear, the Cowboys could give Dak Prescott an unexpected boost of skill talent by pairing him with the rejuvenated Giants star. And they’d be robbing their rivals of a freakish athlete in the process."
No, we can’t imagine, but it is fun to think about. For starters, Cowboys fans would collectively burst a gasket if the team spent $12-14 million on a free agent running back, especially one with Barkley’s injury history.
Prior to this past season, Barkley hadn’t played a full season since his rookie year in 2018, and hadn’t looked the part of a top-shelf running back since 2019. He got back on track in 2022, tallying 1,312 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, to go with 57 catches for 338 yards as a pass-catcher to help lead the Giants to their first playoff appearance since 2016, and first playoff win since 2012.
Barkley was efficient (4.4 yards per carry) despite an overwhelming workload, as he finished fourth in the NFL with 295 carries.
The former No. 2 overall pick’s talent is undeniable, and it stands to reason that his production would skyrocket as a key cog in Dallas’ offense. That’s no shot at the Giants, but it doesn’t take a football savant to recognize New York’s offensive talent pales in comparison to the Cowboys’, including the offensive line.
Of course, Barkley’s contract demands are the ultimate kicker here. The general consensus is he’s looking for $14-15 million per year. The Giants have (wisely) balked at that request, and Paul Schwartz of the New York Post understands the new regime isn’t willing to go any higher than $13 million annually.
In a perfect world, the Giants would like to keep Saquon. That will ultimately depend on how Daniel Jones’ contract negotiations turn out, and whether Barkley is willing to sacrifice a couple million to stay in East Rutherford.
The risk of signing a 26-year-old back to a lucrative contract goes without saying, but that’s right in the Cowboys wheelhouse, is it not?