Skip to main content

Offseason | 2023

Mick Shots: Let's Put Running Back In Perspective


FRISCO, Texas – Great the Cowboys franchised Tony Pollard, the cost $10.09 million guaranteed for the 2023 season.

Obviously the two sides could not come together on a long-term deal that would have lessened his impact this coming season on the salary cap – yet.

But there seems to be two assumptions now out there.

First, that Pollard will be fully recovered from the playoff-ending injury he suffered against San Francisco, fracturing his fibula and suffering ankle ligament damage needing to be surgically repaired. To me, that's a lot.

Second, that means for $10 million the fourth-year guy automatically becomes the Cowboys' lead running back for the 2023 season.

Keep hearing such, and that leaves me pondering three questions right off the bat.

First, what if he is not fully recovered to start the season seven months after his Jan. 24 surgery?

Then what if this injury affects his NFL meal ticket … speed?

And also, who's his running mate?

Let's face it, Pollard has never been a No. 1 running back. Not at the University of Memphis. And certainly not during his first four seasons with the Cowboys. His 193 carries this past season for 1,007 yards were career highs.

By comparison, the Giants franchised their lead back, Saquan Barkley, for the same $10.09 million. But Barkley carried the ball 295 times this past season, and 935 times during his four full NFL seasons, only getting 19 carries in the only two games he played during the 2020 season (ACL tear). Barkley also touched the ball another 241 times during those four full seasons catching the ball.

Not sure why this isn't perplexing to so many ready to dismiss Ezekiel Elliott or against the Cowboys at 26 in this upcoming NFL Draft, which might as well be a second-round pick, selecting a running back if there is no Zeke.

Look, not trying to diminish Pollard's impact on games. Speed really does keep defenses awake at nights. But he's never been a bell-cow back. Until this season, Pollard never had carried the ball more than 14 times in any of his previous 46 games. This past season he did it four times, 22, 15, 18 and 19. That's it.

Can the team's leading rusher this past season do that for 17 games?

Look at it this way: Pollard added 39 receptions for 371 yards. If we add up his career runs, receptions and kickoff returns, he's averaged 173 touches a season, and that's with 232 in 2022. And if you consider the top-21 leading running backs in 2022, only one other running back like Pollard had less than 200 carries (Miami's Raheem Mostert 181).

And for Pollard's speed to continue to become a difference maker, the Cowboys can't ask him to carry the ball like one of the top running backs in the NFL (Josh Jacobs 340 times). Or even the 260 times Minnesota's Dalvin Cook did.

Plus, if head coach Mike McCarthy intends to put a higher priority on the run game, the Cowboys must either convince Zeke to stay for another couple of years at a reduced base salary or bring in another back they can lean on. Especially in those short-yardage situations, where Zeke scored seven of his 12 touchdowns from 1 yard out and picked up first downs on 12 of 14 third-and-1 carries.

Like, how much is that worth?

  • Dak Dollars: Remember when Dak Prescott signed his four-year, $160 million deal in 2021, becoming the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, with some folks up in arms over the amount. Well, here we are two years later, Dak entering the third year of his deal, merely in a three-way tie for the sixth-highest QB package in the NFL with Matthew Stafford and now the Giants' Daniel Jones. And if Dak isn't signed to an extension soon, or likely some sort of adjustment on his $31 million base salary this year to lower that $49.13 million cap hit, his package might just fall out of the top 10, considering new deals are around the corner for guys such as Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts and maybe in another year Trevor Lawrence, and who knows what's going to happen with Lamar Jackson.
  • Inflating Salary Cap: While the NFL salary cap increased to $224.8 million for 2023, these teams having to re-sign QBs to extensions are banking on the cap significantly increasing when the new TV contract money kicks in. Have seen one estimate of the 2024 cap increasing to $256 million. Another reason why, as owner Jerry Jones likes to say, the Cowboys want to keep their "powder dry" for at least one more season.
  • Other People's Money: Many are shocked the Giants re-signed Daniel Jones to that four-year, $160 million deal, matching Dak's, but not necessarily in guaranteed money. While Dak's guarantees reach $126 million, the Giants deal with Jones reportedly includes a $36 million signing bonus and a reported $82 million guaranteed. But hey, that's the price of doing business with quarterbacks in your 5-year-old's NFL. More probably are shocked that Tampa Bay, after taking chances with Tom Brady for another year in 2022, now must account for his $35 million in dead money following his retirement, pushing the Buccaneers to like some $50 million at this point over the cap that goes into effect at 3 p.m. March 15.
  • And The Cowboys: Well, with the addition of Pollard's $10 million franchise tag and Terence Steele's $4.3 million restricted tender, they have some work to do in this ever-fluid salary cap situation, some estimates having the Cowboys a good $16 million over when coming to the top-51 salaries, if not more. That is why they must adjust Dak's base salary, that of Zeke's $10.9 million base and maybe some massaging to the base salaries of Tyron Smith ($13.6 million) and Zack Martin ($13.5), and maybe even Michael Gallup's $11 million base. As you can see, will be hard to sign a big-ticket free agent, unless that player is willing to have the package backloaded to at least 2024.
  • Short Yardage: Good to see veteran cornerback Anthony Brown, a presumed unrestricted free agent, beginning some on-field rehab following surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles in early December … Speaking of cornerbacks, former Cowboys first-round corner Byron Jones, who left for Miami's $82.5 million over five years in 2020, has been released with two years left on his deal after saying he could no longer "run or jump" following complications after his Achilles repair … In one top-101 unrestricted free agent list as of today, tight end Dalton Schultz was the highest Cowboy listed, at No. 16, with safety Donovan Wilson undervalued at 47 and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch coming in at 71 … Somewhat surprised a backup quarterback like Cooper Rush wasn't at least the Mr. Irrelevant of the list … And keep hearing so many making a big deal out of the Baltimore Ravens giving QB Lamar Jackson "only" the non-exclusive franchise tag, meaning he has the right to negotiate with other teams for a long-term deal the Ravens might not match. But if they didn't, the signing team would owe Baltimore two first round picks on top of owing Jackson the $200 million package he's seeking.

Let's allow Cowboys owner Jerry Jones this week's last word, speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine when asked about the probability of giving Pollard the franchise tag to retain his rights and the ability to continue negotiating on a long-term deal to lessen that $10 salary cap hit, and how his January surgery might affect his ability to start the season.

"But it's problematic because he's got to work through the offseason here, and here we are putting some things in and he would love to be out there," Jones said of the Cowboys adding some new wrinkles to the offense with head coach Mike McCarthy now leading the way. "But what I am saying is my awareness of the repair being done is good in terms of being able to not have it alter his contract."

Backing that up with10.1 million reasons.

Related Content