How the Dallas Cowboys Got Here
The Dallas Cowboys appeared to be set at the running back position going into this season. Ezekial Elliot would be the primary rusher taking on the bulk of the carries. Tony Pollard would come in sparingly when Elliot needed a breather. This was a solid plan that had worked well since the two were on the roster. That model is now coming under scrutiny entering Weel 3.
Their performances are almost identical through the first couple of games of this year. This has led many experts to question who should get the most touches in the team’s offense. This has serious implications not just for the team this season, but also for the Cowboys’ future.
Elliot’s History with the Cowboys
Elliot was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Cowboys to take some of the pressure of former quarterback Tony Romo. He would then go on to lead the league in rushing yards two out of his first three seasons. That made him look like one of the best backs in the NFL at that time.
This led him to believe he should be paid like he was worthy of that title. He made the decision to hold out of training camp after his second rushing title in hopes of getting an extension. Elliot would eventually get what he was asking for in a contract. He signed a 6-year $90 million extension that would tie him to the Cowboys for the next eight years of his career. This deal made him the highest-paid player at his position at that time.
This looked like a great deal for Dallas, Keeping a star running back on your roster for that long would be worth the investment. The team would most likely be successful with Elliot running the ball moving forward.
Pollard’s History with the Cowboys
Dallas thought it would be smart to add some insurance behind Elliot. They decided to draft Tony Pollard in with the 128th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He was seen as a great value selection and a perfect backup for the Cowboys. Pollard looks like a younger clone of Elliot in terms of height, weight, and all-around ability.
Pollard was forced to step into a bigger role than expected as a rookie when Elliot was holding out of camp. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believed his new running back was up for the challenge at that time. He did not fare so well in his first game though. Pollard has certainly improved since then. He had over 600 total yards and five scores on offense in 2020 for Dallas.
Dallas Cowboys Current Situation
The Cowboys are in a bit of a situation right now. Pollard is outperforming Elliot on the ground thus far in 2021. Pollard currently has rushed for 123 YDS on 16 ATT according to ESPN. This comes out to an average of 7.7 yards per carry. Elliot is sitting at 27 ATT for 104 YDS on the ground. That translates to 3.9 AVG. That would be the lowest of his career.
Pollard would be the obvious choice to be the starter at this point just based on their season stats. He might just hold onto that role for the rest of the year and possibly into the future.
Elliot signed a lucrative contract extension as I previously mentioned in this article. He may not be the highest-paid at his position anymore, but the $15 million per year average is still quite high. Elliot earned this contract because of how he had performed prior to the deal. Even if his production slipped a little it would have still been a good contract. His stats have not just dipped, but have completely fallen. He failed to gain more than 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career in 2020.
I recognized this could be due to many reasons. The Cowboys were hit hard by injuries last year. They lost quarterback Dak Prescott for the season and played without both starting tackles for most of the year. This would hurt any running back tremendously. Elliot had no excuse though. He was paid like the best running back in the league. He should have produced close to those standards regardless of the situation. That makes many experts wonder if he is actually worth that contact anymore.
Dilemma for the Cowboys
If this was amateur football the decision would be obvious. Pollard should be the starter and Elliott be his often-used backup. The issue here is that this is the NFL. Football is not a sport. It is a massive business where everyone associated with it is paid for their services. Therefore finances are something that must come into consideration.
Elliott’s extension was a massive one. The Cowboys invested in him for their future in an attempt to win another championship. The team however did not commit themselves fully to it. Dallas gave Elliot around $50 million in guarantees when he signed the extension. The franchise however protected themselves. The 6-year extension allows them to cut ties with him after the 2022 season. Even after he restricted his deal to help the team with the cap, they can still save money by releasing him post-June 1 of 2023.
Pollard’s rookie deal also happens to expire after the 2022 season. This means the Cowboys will have to make a decision on who to keep by then. If Elliot continues the downward trend that we have been witnessing lately he may be gone. He could also come close or even return to his former self and stay with the team beyond that season. It all comes down to how Elliot responds to the criticism and how he plays after that.
This article was published on the Belly Up Sports website and specifically its NFL page. Belly Up Sports also has a Twitter page where you can interact with the network. I also have written for this outlet before so see my most recent story if you would like. If you would like to talk to me directly, feel free to chat with me on my Twitter as well. Try to keep it clean and proper. If you are incapable of doing so, ignore that completely and battle it out with me. Just a few warnings for those who dare challenge me. I am highly competitive and hate to admit when I am wrong. So be prepared for a war of words.