(Editor's Note: With over 20 players set for unrestricted free agency, the Cowboys' roster is destined to look much different in 2022. Still, a large percentage of their roster is already in place, and they'll have plenty of work to do to improve last season's 12-5 record. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will evaluate those players already under contract, examining their past performance and future outlook. Today, we continue the series with running back Tony Pollard.)
The Good: Just as the Cowboys hoped when they drafted him in the fourth round back in 2019, Pollard provided a little of everything on offense and special teams. In his third NFL season, he set career highs in rushing yards (719), catches (39) and receiving yards (337) and also recorded his first kickoff return touchdown (100 yards against the Raiders on Thanksgiving). An effective change-of-pace rusher behind Ezekiel Elliott, Pollard averaged 5.5 yards per carry for the season, fifth best in the league and second best among running backs. He also had 17 rushes of 10-plus yards in 2021 on only 130 carries (13.1%), the 11th-highest percentage of 10-plus gains in the league (minimum 100 carries).
The Bad: The Elliott-Pollard tandem was particularly effective early in the season before Elliott suffered a PCL injury in Week 4 that hampered him down the stretch. In the final 12 games after the bye week, including the first-round playoff loss to San Francisco, the Cowboys averaged only 100.8 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry. They gained only 77 yards on 21 carries against the 49ers. It's not all on the running backs, of course. Admittedly, the offensive line struggled with pre-snap movement by opposing fronts and didn't win the line of scrimmage with as much consistency.
Best Of 2021: How about Pollard's 58-yard touchdown run in Week 13 against the Saints? He took a quick pitch from Dak Prescott to the left flat, cut upfield, broke a tackle and then simply outran safety Marcus Williams' seemingly-advantageous angle to the sideline. Not only did it create a two-possession lead in a December road win at the Superdome, it was a career-long gain at a point where the offense badly needed a big play.
Contract Consideration: 2022 will be the final year of Pollard's four-year, $3.1 million rookie contract and includes a $965,000 base salary, according to Spotrac.
What's Next: In training camp, head coach Mike McCarthy indicated that Pollard would have a larger role to help keep Elliott fresh for the stretch run. Despite missing two games with a foot injury, Pollard did have a career-high 130 carries compared to Elliott's 237, though the Cowboys stuck with Elliott as the primary rusher through his knee injury, probably due in part to Elliott's strengths as a pass blocker. With both players back to full strength in 2022, McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will try to re-establish what the running game started in September-October: a four-game stretch where they averaged 201.0 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. For Pollard, it's a contract year and a chance to boost his earning potential before reaching unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career.