Cowboys Overpaying For Running Backs But Not Because Tony Pollard Got Franchise Tag

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Remember a few years ago when the market for NFL running backs fell through the floor? College stars like Najee Harris, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Travis Etienne didn’t get drafted until late in the first round and veteran free agents generally had to sign short deals for no more than $5 million per year.

The NFL is a passing league and teams adopted the thinking it was better (and easy) to find a bargain runner than use top resources on the running back position.

Yeah, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t embracing that whole running backs are easy to find philosophy.

The club applied the franchise tag Monday on pending free agent running back Tony Pollard, per a league source. Pollard is recovering from a broken leg suffered in the team’s playoff loss to San Francisco in late January.

Tony Pollard of the Dallas Cowboys runs for a touchdown against Nick Scott #33 of the Los Angeles Rams during the second quarter at SoFi Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Cowboys Make Sure Tony Pollard Stays

That means the Cowboys will guarantee Pollard $10.1 million in 2023 and he’s going nowhere in free agency. Any team wanting him would have to give up two first-round draft picks. And no team is giving up two first-round draft picks for a running back not named Jim Brown.

The thing that makes this intriguing is the Cowboys already have Ezekiel Elliott on the roster.

And Elliott is scheduled to cost the Cowboys $16.7 million against the salary cap.

So the Cowboys are scheduled to pay $26.8 million in cap charges for their top two running backs.

That is easily the highest number in the NFL.

And it sneezes in the face of the idea running backs can be found easily and cheaply.

And, I get it, the Cowboys have hired Brian Schottenheimer as their offensive coordinator and he generally believes in being more balanced between run and pass than perhaps previous coordinator Kellen Moore. So running the ball and getting more out of the running game is a big deal for the Cowboys.

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But $26.8 million for two running backs?

It makes little cap sense so there is a possibility that doesn’t last.

Maybe the Cowboys rework Elliott’s contract because his 876 rushing yards and 3.8 yards per carry totals of a year ago don’t suggest he’s worth elite running back pay anymore. Neither does the fact Elliott has failed to get over 1,000 yards in two of the last three seasons.

Neither does the fact Elliott was clearly the secondary back late last season as Pollard showed more explosion and was more dynamic.

The Cowboys could obviously move on from Elliott at a modest cap savings while also absorbing a considerable amount of dead money. Then the team could find a younger, cheaper running back in the draft if it wanted.

That would put the Cowboys more in line with how the rest of the NFL is operating.

Until then … the market has seemingly bounced back for running backs in Dallas.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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