Receiving far less attention than the other two running backs hit with the franchise tag this year, Tony Pollard signed his tender early and has been with the Cowboys this offseason. After not reaching an extension agreement before the July 17 deadline, Pollard will be attached to the $10.1MM tag salary this season.
Not averse to seeing players spend seasons on the tag, the Cowboys also made a multiyear offer to Dalton Schultz. That proposal was believed to be a longer-term deal than the 2022 tag recipient preferred, though Schultz joined Dolphins 2022 franchise player Mike Gesicki in not doing well on this year’s open market. After being tagged at $10.9MM last year, Schultz signed a one-year deal worth $6.25MM (with the Texans) in March. The Cowboys also saw DeMarcus Lawrence (2018) and Dak Prescott (2020) play on the tag. Both players eventually signed extensions.
Jones did not confirm Pollard is firmly in the team’s long-term plans, but unlike Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs, the former fourth-round pick does not have significant tread on his tires. Ezekiel Elliott‘s former backup has only logged 510 career carries, along with 121 receptions, in four seasons. The Cowboys depended on Pollard last year — a season in which the former fourth-round pick totaled 1,378 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns — and will rely on him again in 2023, assuming his recovery from a broken leg and high ankle sprain finishes smoothly.
Considering where the RB market went this offseason, Pollard residing in limbo does not separate him from most of the other standouts at his position. The Cowboys can re-tag Pollard at 120% of his 2023 salary. The team went to this well with Lawrence in 2019, and the talented defensive end signed an extension that offseason.
Pollard, 26, signing his franchise tag locks him into that $10.1MM amount this year. As they did with Prescott in 2021, the Cowboys can also reach an extension agreement with Pollard that keeps him off the market next year. The team must wait until January to resume talks, however.
The Cowboys’ top extension candidates have come up on multiple occasions this year. While the team has options with each beyond this year, the goal looks to be new deals before heading into the 2024 offseason.
This will not be an easy mission. Diggs’ reputation as a boom-or-bust gambler in coverage notwithstanding, the former second-round pick has a first-team All-Pro nod on his resume — for an 11-interception season — and does not have an extensive injury history. Diggs has missed one game over the past two years. Going into his age-25 season, Diggs will certainly want his second contract to land in the top cornerback tax bracket.
With three corners earning at least $20MM per year and five attached to contracts worth at least $19MM on average, the Cowboys have a high bar to clear. Dallas passed on going into the $16MM-AAV range for Byron Jones three years ago, drafting Diggs shortly after letting its previous top corner walk (for a record-setting Dolphins deal) in free agency. If Diggs is unsigned going into the ’24 offseason, he will likely be positioned as the Cowboys’ top franchise tag candidate.
The Cowboys have a history of extending core performers despite two years remaining on their rookie deals. They did this withTyron Smith in 2014, with Travis Frederick in 2016 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2019. That said, no team — in the fifth-year option era, that is — has extended a wide receiver with two years left on his rookie contract. Justin Jefferson is also a candidate to become the first wideout since the 2011 CBA to be extended with two years remaining on his rookie deal, though the Vikings are not certain to proceed down this path. That could force Jefferson to contemplate a hold-in effort, and Lamb might be fine waiting until Jefferson raises the booming receiver market further before committing to a second contract. Cowboys executive VP Stephen Jones mentioned players’ willingness to wait earlier this offseason.
Lamb, 24, may not be a threat to eclipse Tyreek Hill‘s $30MM-per-year pact now, but if Jefferson raises the positional ceiling and the top Cowboys wideout builds on his 1,359-yard season, the price in 2024 stands to come in higher than it likely does now. Ely Allen assessed Lamb’s extension value last month. The Cowboys cut bait on Amari Cooper‘s five-year, $100MM extension after two seasons; as the salary cap keeps rising, Lamb’s value will be much higher.
Steele is still rehabbing the ACL tear that ended his season early, and his being an extension candidate would point to the Cowboys planning an O-line configuration that keeps him as the starting right tackle. Jerry Jones mentioned the prospect of Steele being a swingman behindTyron Smith and Tyler Smith, but the notion of the younger Smith sliding to left guard — which he did late in the season — and having the All-Decade blocker back at left tackle (and Steele at right tackle) has also surfaced. How the Cowboys proceed would have a big impact on Steele’s value.
A former UDFA, Steele, 26, can certainly enhance his market by putting together a strong contract year post-injury. Nine years after signing what has become the NFL’s longest-running active contract, Tyron Smith is due for free agency in 2024 as well. Steele’s status would seemingly factor into the Hall of Fame candidate’s Dallas future. Center Tyler Biadasz also could land on the Cowboys’ extension radar, Archer adds, though the fourth-year blocker is likely behind the above-referenced players in the queue.
That raises the stakes for prospective Diggs negotiations this summer, though the increasingly grim running back market may also allow the Cowboys to re-sign Pollard if no extension is reached before the 2024 legal tampering period.
As the running back market resides as a shell of its form of even a few months ago, the franchise tag deadline has come and gone without any of the three tagged backs reaching extension agreements.
After multiple reports suggested Tony Pollard was not close on a deal with the Cowboys, the Giants and Raiders will not come to terms with Saquon Barkley or Josh Jacobs on respective extensions, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo report (Twitterlinks). All three backs will be tied to the $10.1MM franchise tag.
The Giants and Barkley looked to be the closest on terms, and the sides had engaged in extension talks since last November. But guaranteed money loomed as a sticking point for the Giants, who will not be seeing their tagged back for a while. As should be expected, Barkley will not report to training camp on time, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Likewise, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur notes Jacobs will not be rejoining the Raiders for a while (Twitter link). All extension talks between the backs and their respective teams must be tabled to 2024.
Both Barkley and Jacobs have been connected to potentially skipping regular-season time; Pollard signing his franchise tender in late March will not allow him to miss training camp work without fines coming his way. Barkley and Jacobs have not signed their tenders and cannot be fined for missing camp workouts. While Pollard will be expected to report to the Cowboys on time, it will almost definitely be a while before Barkley and Jacobs — both of whom having voiced frustration during this process — show up.
The 2023 backfield market crash involved four of the eight-figure-per-year players at the position either being released (Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook) or forced into pay cuts (Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon). It would be easier at this point to mention the top-market backs whose contracts were not reduced or shed. For what it’s worth, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb did not see any pay reductions this year. Austin Ekeler, however, requested a trade and was given permission to seek a relocation; the Chargers back — he of 38 touchdowns over the past two seasons — did not generate much interest. The Cowboys, Giants and Raiders kept their backs off the market; no back who did hit free agency signed a deal averaging even $6.5MM per year.
The Giants and Barkley attempted to come to terms today, with ESPN’s Dianna Russini noting negotiations ran up until the deadline (Twitter link). No deal commenced. After the Giants were believed to have climbed a bit on guarantees, their final offer was also lower on average annual value. New York had previously offered Barkley a deal averaging in the $13MM-per-year neighborhood — a proposal the team made during the parties’ winter negotiations — and included around $19MM in guarantees. The team came up on guarantees earlier today, with that number rising toward $22MM. None of it ended up mattering, as Fox Sports’ Ralph Vacchiano adds neither side moved “nearly enough” to finalize an extension (Twitter link).
No terms are known in the Jacobs talks, which provided a fairly clear indication a deal was not especially close. Like the Giants, the Raiders appeared fine carrying their starting running back’s $10.1MM tag number on their cap sheet. Of course, it will be worth wondering when both players show up.
Jacobs has earned barely $11MM — via his rookie contract — during his career, while Barkley has pocketed almost $40MM. The Giants back would be in a better position to exercise the Le’Veon Bell nuclear option — skipping games in protest of the tag. Barkley listed the Bell boycott as a potential option, but that also likely was a leverage ploy. It would be interesting to see if Barkley would be willing to use his money earned to punish the Giants here, but that has never loomed as a realistic scenario. Barkley and Jacobs will cost themselves $560K for each game missed. To be fair, Bell still found a willing buyer — the Jets, who gave him a four-year, $52.5MM deal — in free agency after sitting out a season for preservation purposes. It would not seem such a suitor would exist, given the present state of the position, if Barkley or Jacobs took this route.
The last eight-figure-AAV running back contract to be authorized came in July 2021 — the Browns’ three-year, $36.6MM Chubb extension. While Chubb, Jones, Henry, Cook and, to an extent, Kamara and McCaffrey have played well on their big-ticket extensions — McCaffrey doing so after being traded to the 49ers — teams are shifting in the other direction at this position. Barkley and Colts extension candidate Jonathan Taylor sent out ominous tweets regarding their position’s state Monday afternoon. Taylor’s rookie deal expires after this season. Seeing as the running back tag has gone down from the time Bell was twice tagged — for $12.12MM (2017) and $14.54MM (2018) — a Taylor tag certainly will be a logical next step for the Colts.
As for Pollard, ESPN.com’s Todd Archer indicates the Cowboys did submit a proposal to their tagged back. But it does not sound like the sides went too deep on contract talks (Twitter link). Pollard has been fine playing on the tag, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill (on Twitter). Unlike Barkley and Jacobs, however, Pollard may not be a strong candidate to be retagged in 2024. Trevon Diggs is also set to play on an expiring contract this year.
With the Jaguars extending Evan Engram on Sunday, this year’s franchise tag period is now down to the three running backs. Of those three situations, Tony Pollard‘s Cowboys negotiations have generated the fewest headlines. There might be a good reason for that.
Pollard remains expected to play this season on the $10.1MM tag. He and the Cowboys have until 3pm CT to hammer out an agreement, but the team may not have been all that serious about an extension at this time. Talks between Pollard and the Cowboys are not believed to have been substantive this offseason, NFL.com’s Jane Slater tweets.
Whereas Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs have been starters throughout their respective careers, Pollard has operated as a high-end change-of-pace option in Dallas. The dual-threat back did earn his first Pro Bowl nod last season, but Ezekiel Elliott still hovered as the team’s starter. Both players scored 12 touchdowns, though Pollard has been the Cowboys’ more explosive back for some time. Still, Elliott is in play to return on a lower-cost deal. The Cowboys also may want to see how Pollard responds to a heavier workload before making a multiyear commitment.
The team has not been shy about leaving franchise tag numbers on its payroll past the mid-July deadline. DeMarcus Lawrence played on the tag in 2018, with Dak Prescott following suit in 2020. Dalton Schultz played on the tag last year, while defensive end Anthony Spencerplayed two seasons on the tag (2012 and 2013) before re-signing with the team the following year. With the running back tag checking in as this year’s second-lowest number — above just the kicker/punter figure — Pollard playing at $10.1MM will not be as damaging as Prescott’s tag number staying on the Cowboys’ cap sheet three years ago.
The Cowboys waded into the deep waters of the RB market in 2019, extending Elliott despite two years of team control left. Elliott’s six-year, $90MM extension did not work out for the Cowboys, who saw their bellcow back decline while attached to the league’s second-most lucrative running back deal. This opened the door for Pollard, a fourth-round find. Pollard has logged just 510 carries since the Cowboys drafted him out of Memphis; Elliott had totaled 868 in just three seasons. Of the three franchise-tagged backs this year, Pollard’s workload points to him remaining in his prime the longest.
Pollard signed his franchise tender in late March; this money represents a nice payday for a player who has spent much of his career as a backup. The 26-year-old back, however, is missing out on a key offseason to cash in. Running back value has endured several hits this offseason, and Pollard could certainly have scored more than $10.1MM guaranteed were he permitted to hit the open market in March. The fifth-year back is also rehabbing a broken leg and high ankle sprain suffered in the Cowboys’ divisional-round loss.
This sets up a critical season for the Day 3 success story. The Cowboys took care of Lawrence and Prescott in the years after their seasons on the tag. With running back careers shorter compared to standouts at other positions, a season on the tag stands to affect Pollard’s earning potential more than it did Lawrence or Prescott’s. But teams have had the option of keeping their top free agent off the market via the tag since 1993. Pollard will not be the first player to see his earning power affected by it.
JULY 17: Josina Anderson of CBS Sports tweets that talks are still ongoing between team and player in this situation, which could leave the door open to an eleventh-hour agreement. However, the Dallas Morning News’ Calvin Watkins and Michael Gehlken add (via Twitter and Threads) that Pollard can still be expected to play out the 2023 season on the tag.
JULY 16: Cowboys running back Tony Pollard was the only one of the franchise tagged running backs to report to team activities after signing his tag back in March. This still left the door open for Pollard and Dallas to work towards a long-term extension, but according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, it’s seeming unlikely that the two sides will reach a new deal by tomorrow’s 3pm central deadline. Pollard will play out the 2023 season on the $10.09MM franchise tag.
Despite the team tagging Pollard and the veteran back signing the tag, the team made it clear that they weren’t planning on Pollard playing out next season on a one-year tryout. Pollard wisely chose to take the money in hand while still keeping the possibility of a new deal open in the future. It was established early that Dallas would continue working towards a new deal with Pollard, albeit not one quite as lengthy as the one they gave Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott’s six-year, $90MM extension was cut short with four seasons remaining when the team designated him as a post-June 1 cut. In order to avoid making the same mistakes twice, the Cowboys were reportedly eyeing an extension for a term of closer to three or four years for Pollard. Even if they weren’t going to dedicate a long-term deal to him, a medium-term extension was still in the cards for the 26-year-old.
Fortunately, because Pollard signed the tag, the two sides have an additional eight months to work out the terms of a possible extension. In the meantime, Pollard will play out the year under the guaranteed money of the franchise tag. If the Cowboys fail to extend Pollard, they’re unlikely to tag him in consecutive years, so this season should result in a new contract for Pollard, regardless. Whether that contract is a re-signing with Dallas or a new deal in free agency will be determined down the road.
If no extension agreements are finalized before 3pm CT on July 17, these players will be tied to the tag this season. For players who remain on the tag after that date, no long-term negotiations are permitted until season’s end. With one position dominating the tag landscape this year, here is how the four situations look entering crunch time:
Saquon Barkley, Giants; tag price: $10.1MM
Easily the negotiation that has brought the most twists and turns, Barkley has been in off-and-on talks with the Giants since November. The Giants’ Joe Schoen–Brian Daboll regime inherited Barkley, but they have extended two other Dave Gettleman-era draftees (Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence) this offseason. But the team’s most popular player finds himself is battling another leaguewide devaluation of the running back position. As Barkley turned down two offers with AAVs north of $12MM — one of those being higher than $13MM per year — the Giants pulled their top proposal off the table after their March extension-tag sequence involving Jones and Barkley.
Barkley, 26, took issue with being characterized as greedy, citing Giants leaks that did not reveal the full truth about the offers he declined. Insufficient guarantees hover at the root of Barkley’s gripes. With the Giants having the option of re-tagging Barkley for barely $12MM in 2023, it is understandable the two-time Pro Bowler would seek a guarantee north of $22MM per year — to cover both tags.
Only two veteran backs (Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry) are tied to deals including more than $20MM fully guaranteed. While McCaffrey encountered injuries on his second contract, the 1,000-1,000 performer did not run into Barkley’s rookie-deal health issues. Those could certainly be giving Giants brass pause regarding guarantees.
These talks have included rumblings of Barkley skipping training camp — if unsigned by July 17 — and a (likely idle) threat of following Le’Veon Bell‘s 2018 path of sitting out the season in protest. The Giants are believed to be OK with Barkley playing on the tag, but ownership remains high on the former No. 2 overall pick. That might be driving the recent optimism in these talks. The skill-position-deficient Giants relied on Barkley (1,650 scrimmage yards) last season, and while they have let two players (Jason Pierre-Paul, Leonard Williams) play on the tag, the team has never not extended a player whom it tagged. (Both D-linemen signed extensions after being tagged again.)
Dating back to their Julius Thomas miss, the Jaguars have struggled to staff this position. Engram provided a win for GM Trent Baalke, whose first free agency class as lead Jags decision-maker made significant contributions. But Engram also has a history of inconsistency, having never put it together for an extended stretch as a Giant. Engram does have an original-ballot Pro Bowl nod on his resume (2020) and saw the Giants pick up his fifth-year option prior to that performance. His 2021 provided a letdown, but the Giants — with Jones going down with a neck injury that November — were not exactly in position to see any pass catcher thrive at that point.
Guarantees are undoubtedly an issue here. A 2024 Engram tag would cost $13.62MM, likely giving the 28-year-old pass catcher a guarantee target of $25MM. Only three veteran tight ends (Mark Andrews, George Kittle, Hunter Henry) have secured that at signing, but with those deals taking place in 2020 or ’21, Engram can make a case — on a $224.8MM salary cap — he deserves such security as well. The tight end market appears out of step with its top cogs’ contributions, with Travis Kelce still tied to a $14.3MM-per-year deal. That offers an interesting complication in these Engram discussions as well.
Josh Jacobs, Raiders; tag price: $10.1MM
A threat to miss game checks makes more sense from Barkley, who has earned nearly $40MM in five seasons. Jacobs following suit is less logical, as he has made $11.9MM in four NFL years. The Raiders passed on Jacobs’ fifth-year option, and he proceeded to become the team’s first rushing champion since Marcus Allen did so in a 1985 MVP season. Jacobs, 25, zoomed onto the tag radar with his 2022 performance, but while the Giants have made multiple offers to Barkley, it is unclear if the Raiders are making a serious push to extend Jacobs. The team is still hopeful, but numbers have proven elusive.
The Alabama product has offered cryptic assessments of his negotiations, hinting at making a stand for the running back position. Seeing as Bell has expressed belated regret for passing on $14MM with his 2018 anti-tag crusade, it would surprise if Barkley or Jacobs stayed away into the season. It might be a negotiating tactic, as RBs are low on leverage these days, but the threat of Jacobs skipping Week 1 has surfaced. With Josh McDaniels in a crucial year — after his first Raiders HC season went south quickly — and the Raiders now employing the league’s most injury-prone quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo), Jacobs putting regular-season absences on the table is an interesting move.
While Jacobs is still more likely than not to be in uniform in Week 1, the prospect of an injury or regression affecting his 2024 market should be a factor here. Jacobs’ light Crimson Tide workload (251 college carries) worked in his favor, but the Raiders giving him an NFL-most 393 touches last season undercuts that advantage to a degree. Players to log that many touches in a season over the past 10 years (Henry, McCaffrey, Bell, DeMarco Murray) either fared far worse the following year or, in Bell’s case, skipped the next season.
With Jacobs not the same threat out of the backfield McCaffrey, Barkley or Alvin Kamara are, a top-market pact will be hard for the fifth-year vet to secure. With McDaniels previously expressing support for the Jon Gruden-era draftee, will be interesting to see what numbers come out of these talks.
Tony Pollard, Cowboys; tag price: $10.1MM
The Cowboys are certainly unafraid to unholster their franchise tag, having used it in each of the past six years. In addition to keeping Pollard away from free agency, Dallas tagged Dalton Schultz, Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence in that span. With Prescott and Lawrence being tagged twice and Schultz leaving after his tagged season, the Cowboys have been fine letting players carry tag figures into seasons. Considering Pollard’s is the lowest cap hit among Dallas’ recent tags, the team is likely OK with the $10MM number staying on its books this year.
Pollard, 26, presents perhaps a more interesting case for a mid-2020s ascent compared to the Giants and Raiders backs. He has taken just 510 handoffs as a pro — Barkley sits at 954, Jacobs at 1,072 — and offers pass-game explosiveness that helped lead Dallas to drop Ezekiel Elliott.
The six-year, $90MM Elliott extension did not age well for the Cowboys, who are eating $11MM-plus in dead money over the next two years after the post-June 1 cut designation. But Elliott also accumulated more mileage (868 carries) before signing that extension. Pollard’s rookie-contract usage rate and skillset point to a promising late-20s stretch. Although Elliott’s deal helped spread out his cap hits, the Cowboys are eyeing a shorter-term Pollard pact.
As a former fourth-round pick, Pollard was smart to sign his tender and secure the guaranteed salary. Coming off a season in which he totaled 1,378 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns, the Memphis alum’s arrow is pointing up. The Cowboys can look at the deal the Packers gave dual-threat back Aaron Jones in 2021 (four years, $48MM) as an example of a good contract for a multipurpose back. The organization’s history with re-tagging players should also point to Pollard aiming for $22MM-plus in guarantees, but with no back earning between $7MM and $12MM on average, both Pollard and the team have interesting decisions to make in the coming days. Unlike Schultz’s 2022 tag period, however, updates have been scarce regarding Pollard talks.
Tony Pollard suffered a broken leg back in January, putting the start to his 2023 campaign in doubt. However, the running back told reporters today that he’s ahead of schedule with his rehab and is aiming to be back on the field for the starting of training camp.
“Right now, I’m feeling really good about where I am — a little bit ahead of schedule,” Pollard said today (via the team’s website). “Being able to get out there for the walkthrough parts and to be out there with the team, get out there and get my feet wet. I’m not really limited at this point, it’s just [about] being smart with it. Just trying to work my way back in slowly and make sure I’m in tip-top shape so there’s not a fall-off.”
Pollard took some basic reps with the starters during OTAs, and he stated that he actually feels “faster” than he did before his injury. Of course, just because the running back may be anxious to return to the field, it doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t bring him along slowly. This is especially true after the team didn’t re-sign Ezekiel Elliott while placing the franchise tag on Pollard.
The former fourth-round pick followed up his first 1,000-yard campaign in 2021 with his first Pro Bowl season in 2022. Pollard finished the year with 1,378 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns, and that performance clearly gave the organization confidence that he can lead the rushing attack in 2023…and beyond.
Pollard will earn a bit more than $10MM in 2023 playing under the franchise tag. It’s uncertain if the RB’s camp will discuss a long-term pact with the Cowboys front office, but Pollard made it clear that he’s not focused on his future earnings.
“I let my agent handle that — do the dirty work — and I just come in ready to work,” the running back said.
While Pollard is limited in OTAs, the team has been able to get a long look at their backup options. Any of Malik Davis, rookie sixth-round pick Deuce Vaughn, veteran Ronald Jones, and Rico Dowdle could be in contention for backup reps behind Pollard next season.
The Cowboys are not planning for this to be a “prove it” year for Tony Pollard. They are aiming to sign their franchise-tagged player to an extension. And the team is not planning to make that contract as long as Ezekiel Elliott‘s.
Although the Cowboys traditionally prefer extensions of at least five years, executive VP Stephen Jones said (via ESPN.com’s Ed Werder) the team is eyeing a three- to four-year deal for Pollard. This would essentially cover the remainder of the fifth-year veteran’s prime.
Pollard upstaged Elliott last season and became the team’s backfield priority this year, leading to the $10.1MM franchise tag — which the former fourth-round pick has signed — and ensuing Elliott release. Pollard has surpassed 1,000 scrimmage yards in each of the past two seasons; he earned Pro Bowl acclaim for his 1,378-yard, 12-touchdown slate. A three-year deal would match Nick Chubb‘s; the other backs signed to eight-figure-per-year contracts are attached to four- or five-year deals.
Pollard’s season ended with a fractured fibula and high ankle sprain. This is not expected to impact Pollard’s Week 1 availability, and the Cowboys’ second-half struggles without their top back in San Francisco helped illustrate the value the Memphis product brings. That said, the team has been linked to Texas productBijan Robinsonat No. 26 overall. It would be borderline shocking if Robinson fell that far, but the Cowboys did take CeeDee Lamb with their 2020 first-round pick despite having Cooper and Gallup rostered.
Joining Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs as backs tagged this year, Pollard differs in being under contract. His $10.1MM salary is guaranteed. The Cowboys gave Elliott a market-topping contract just before the 2019 season; Pollard, 25, should not be expected to land such a pact. But his signing the franchise tender may signal his negotiations will not be as difficult as the Barkley and Jacobs talks look set to become.
Tony Pollard became the first of this year’s lot of franchise tag recipients to sign his Cowboys franchise tender, with Todd Archer of ESPN.com indicating (via Twitter) Pollard put pen to paper Thursday morning.
Pollard’s $10.1MM salary is now fully guaranteed. The Cowboys and their breakout running back have until July 17 to work out an extension, but if they sides cannot come to terms, Pollard’s early decision to lock in that money shows he did not strongly consider staying away from the team absent a deal.
In between tagging Pollard and the fifth-year back signing his tag, the Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott. The seven-year starter had said he was amenable to taking a pay cut, but no numbers surfaced about how much of a trim the former rushing champion would accept. Instead, Elliott is a free agent. Pollard now leads a backfield that houses Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle and former Buccaneers starter Ronald Jones.
Pollard, who will turn 26 in April, is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which both he and Elliott scored 12 touchdowns. Pollard, however, topped Zeke with 1,378 scrimmage yards to power the Cowboys. His fractured fibula and high ankle sprain in the divisional round wounded the Cowboys’ upset effort in San Francisco, but the former fourth-round pick is expected to make a full recovery.
By signing the tender, Pollard can be fined for missing Cowboys minicamp or training camp. Having this matter out of the way so early showed the Memphis product was not planning to do so. Pollard should be expected to participate — in some capacity, at least — in Dallas’ training camp. No reports have surfaced indicating Pollard’s Week 1 availability is in question.
It would not surprise if the Cowboys added a backup-caliber back in the draft, as Elliott coming back currently resides as a long-odds scenario. But the team let Dalton Schultz walk to tag Pollard. The Cowboys have used the tag in each of the past six years. They were unable to sign Schultz, Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence to extensions that year. Each played on the tag, though the Cowboys were able to lock in Prescott and Lawrence to extensions the following spring. Schultz signed with the Texans earlier this week.
The Cowboys did lock in Dez Bryant to an extension agreement after a 2015 tag, and they did so as the Broncos were negotiating with tagged wideout Demaryius Thomas. Similar circumstances exist at Pollard’s position, with the Giants (Saquon Barkley) and Raiders (Josh Jacobs) having tagged their top running backs. Will the Cowboys complete an extension with Pollard by the July deadline?
Tony Pollard‘s future in Dallas has increasingly become a talking point this offseason, but some clarity has emerged Monday. The Cowboys are using the franchise tag on the running back, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). A team announcement has since confirmed the move.
The news comes as no surprise at this point, of course. Pollard played his way into a considerable pay raise over the past two seasons in particular. He eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career in 2022, a feat which earned him a Pro Bowl nod. The franchise tag (valued at $10.1MM) was thought to be the likely outcome in his situation in the build-up to the tag window, which is set to close tomorrow.
Over the course of this past weekend, owner Jerry Jones confirmed that the Cowboys would make sure Pollard didn’t hit the open market. A long-term deal would achieve that goal, and the parties now have until July 15 to negotiate one. After the 25-year-old averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2022 (his third season with an average above 5.0 in that regard), Pollard confirmed his status as by far the most efficient member of Dallas’ backfield. Playing 2023 on the tag would of course be possible, and nearly triple his career earnings, but a multi-year commitment for Pollard would carry other consequences for the Cowboys.
Ezekiel Elliott has long been viewed as a cut candidate, given the structure of his contract. Elliott no longer has any guaranteed money remaining on his pact, which runs though the 2026 season. Releasing the 27-year-old would yield considerable cap savings, especially if he were to be designated as a post-June 1 cut. Knowing the financial burden he represents to the team, Elliott has publicly shown a willingness to take a pay cut to stay in the fold moving forward.
The former fourth overall pick racked up 968 scrimmage yards in 2022, but averaged a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. That has led to increasing calls for Pollard to take on early-down work, which would leave Elliott as a short-yardage specialist. That role could suit the latter, but a $16.7MM cap hit accompanying it would not be feasible. Regardless of what the Cowboys do with Elliott, Pollard will be a central figure in the team’s offense for at least one more year.
Dallas is said to be eying a notable addition on that side of the ball, as the team looks to add another pass-catching option to complement wideout CeeDee Lamband, likely, a tight end to replace Dalton Schultz. Doing so would be made possible with a less expensive RB tandem made possible by a release of Elliott or a significant pay cut on his part. Regardless, Pollard demonstrated an ability to operate as a lead back on a full-time basis, something which he could very well be in 2023.
With Pollard joining Raiders tailbackJosh Jacobsin the franchise tag club, the position’s market has lost another headliner in terms of free agency. With Jacobs and Pollard unavailable, and the same potentially true of Saquon Barkley, attention will turn to the Giants star, along with the likes of Miles Sandersand David Montgomeryfor RBs in line for a second contact. Several veterans could hurt their respective markets, but Pollard can now focus on continued negotiations aimed at keeping him in Dallas beyond the coming season.