Since 2016, the Dallas Cowboys have had one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. Drafting running back Ezekiel Elliott and pairing him with an already strong offensive line set them up for years to be one of the most dominant offenses in the NFL.
He was set to be the feature back in Dallas for a long time, but recent regressions and Tony Pollard’s emergence have complicated things.
At the end of this season, Pollard will become a free agent, while the Cowboys will have the option to release Elliott.
They would eat over $11 million, but this would be the only time they could do this before Elliott’s contract becomes fully guaranteed through 2026.
Elliott ran wild his rookie year, leading the NFL with 322 carries and 1,631 yards while rushing for 15 touchdowns. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind teammate Dak Prescott, but Elliott also finished third in MVP voting. In addition, Elliott was named All-Pro first team and went to the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys continued to dominate the rushing game over the next three years, with Elliott leading the backfield. He combined for 847 attempts, 3,774 yards, and 25 touchdowns, along with recording 157 catches for 1,256 yards and seven touchdowns. Elliott missed six games in 2017 due to suspension but was named to the Pro Bowl twice and All-Pro on the second team once.
However, Elliott began to see regression in his game over the last three seasons, which coincided with him playing through injuries.
In 2020 and 2021, Elliott combined for 481 carries, 1,981 yards, and 16 touchdowns on the ground while also hauling in 99 receptions for 625 yards and four touchdowns through the air. He had a career-high 108.7 yards per game his rookie season, but that total has gone down in each season, culminating in 58.9 yards per game in 2021.
The Cowboys drafted Pollard in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He immediately slotted into the backup role behind Elliott and was used on special teams as a kick returner. However, Pollard’s breakout season didn’t happen until 2021.
Last year, Pollard had a career year, rushing for 719 yards and two touchdowns on 130 carries, good for 5.5 yards per carry. He also had 39 catches for 337 yards, showing his versatility in both the pass and run game.
Dallas planned to use Pollard more across the board in 2022, and he has excelled on offense. Through 12 games, Pollard has 148 rushing attempts for 852 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He also has 25 catches for 259 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver. Pollard has started four games this season, three in which he’s rushed for over 100 yards.
Through 10 games this season, Elliott has 157 carries, 654 yards, and eight touchdowns to go along with 11 catches for 54 yards. He has missed two games with injury so far and has yet to rush for over 100 yards this season.
Pollard has been the better player this season, as he has more yards than Elliott on the ground and through the air, and he’s done so on fewer carries.
Pollard has shown how explosive he is, while Elliott has demonstrated that he isn’t the same running back he once was.
The Cowboys can save a lot of money by moving on from Elliott and inking a new deal with Pollard.
Of course, it’s not ideal for the organization to eat that money, but Pollard is the clear option at running back moving forward.
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