Tony Pollard

Texans Offered Saquon Barkley Over $11MM Per Year; Team Pursued Tony Pollard, D’Andre Swift

With C.J. Stroud locked into rookie-deal money through at least 2025, the Texans have a rare opportunity. They can build around a low-cost quarterback who showed star potential as a rookie. The team made some moves to capitalize this offseason, deviating from a conservative first three years — with regards to free agency — under Nick Caserio.

The Texans added the likes of Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Azeez Al-Shaair and Denico Autry. Houston hoped to bring in a higher-salary target at running back as well, but mutual interest between the team and Saquon Barkley did not produce a deal. Despite rostering Jalen Hurts on a $51MM-per-year contract, the Eagles landed Barkley on a three-year, $37.75MM deal that includes $26MM guaranteed at signing. Barkley sits as the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid RB, cashing in after Giants negotiations produced a lesser offer and a franchise tag last summer.

Houston was willing to go into this neighborhood for Barkley, according to KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson, who reports the team offered the two-time Pro Bowler a three-year deal worth just north of $33MM. The AAV here checks in just south of Barkley’s $12.58MM Philly number, but given the guarantee at signing the Eagles authorized, it is unsurprising the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year made the choice he did.

The wave of RB contracts authorized in the early 2020s have led to a few high-profile releases, pay cuts or trades. Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon and Derrick Henry are no longer attached to eight-figure-per-year accords. The Browns slashed Nick Chubb‘s pay last month, as the perennial Pro Bowler is coming off two knee surgeries, and Josh Jacobs‘ Packers deal only includes $12.5MM guaranteed at signing. Given the state of the RB position, Barkley did well to score the guarantee did he going into his seventh season.

Barkley, 27, said he was drawn to the Texans before considering the Eagles. But the Penn State alum certainly has Pennsylvania ties; much of his family is from the area. Although the Texans had the Eagles beat for cap space, they stood down on Barkley. The team soon gave Hunter a near-fully guaranteed contract and made an interesting commitment to Mixon. Just before the Bengals were set to release their seven-year starter, the Texans agreed to send a seventh-round pick for the veteran back. Mixon soon agreed to new terms with the Texans — two years, $19.75MM ($13MM guaranteed).

The Texans ended up giving Mixon a better deal than they proposed Devin Singletary, per Wilson, who adds the team offered its primary 2023 starter a contract averaging $4MM per year. Singletary agreed to a three-year, $16.5MM deal (with $9.5MM fully guaranteed) to reunite with Brian Daboll in New York.

As a Wilson pre-free agency report suggested, the Texans did discuss terms with Tony Pollard and D’Andre Swift. Pollard ended up with the Titans (three years, $21.75MM) and Swift became the first UFA from this year’s class to commit to a team, signing a three-year, $24MM deal with the Bears.

Only Barkley and Swift ($14MM) scored more fully guaranteed money among this year’s free agent RBs than Mixon, who is coming off his fourth 1,000-yard rushing season but has 1,854 career touches — third-most among active backs. Charged with elevating a Texans rushing attack that ranked 22nd last season, Mixon is going into his age-28 slate.

The Texans will count on Mixon, but Caserio said (via SI.com’s Coty M. Davis) Dameon Pierce — who followed up an impressive rookie season with a down 2023 — remains a “big part” of the team’s 2024 plan. The 2022 fourth-rounder averaged just 2.9 yards per carry last season, seeing Singletary usurp him as the Texans’ lead back down the stretch. The younger back will have a chance to rebound, albeit in a now-Mixon-fronted backfield.

Latest On Titans’ RB Plans

For the first time since 2016, Derrick Henry will be absent from the Titans’ backfield when the 2024 season kicks off. Tennessee was one of the teams which quickly made a notable addition at the running back spot, though, adding Tony Pollard to the fold.

The ex-Cowboy took a three-year deal worth $21.75MM ($10.5MM guaranteed) to head to Nashville. Not long before that agreement was worked out – on the first day of the negotiating window – Pollard was reported to be willing to take a discount and remain in Dallas. Instead, the $7.25MM annual average value of his pact has led to the expectation he will handle lead back duties in his new home.

When speaking about the team’s backfield approach, though, new offensive coordinator Nick Holz said (via Terry McCormick of TitansInsider.com) Pollard and Tyjae Spears will operate on a 1A-1B basis. The former has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons (although his efficiency in doing so last year led to criticism related to his ability to handle a large workload).

The latter, meanwhile, had an encouraging rookie campaign in 2023. Splitting time with Henry, Spears saw a healthy 53% offensive snap share. The former third-rounder recorded 453 yards and two touchdowns on 100 carries, adding another 352 yards and one score on 52 receptions. Remaining productive as a pass-catching option could help Spears maintain a regular role in the Titans’ new-look offense.

Of course, Tennessee’s offseason has also included the big-money addition of wideout Calvin Ridley. He, DeAndre Hopkins and 2022 first-rounder Treylon Burks will play a pivotal role in the Titans’ passing game during the first full season with Will Levis under center. First-time head coach Brian Callahan will call plays on offense, and his success in that regard will go a long way in determining the Titans’ fate in 2024. With respect to the RB position, a committee approach appears to be in place.

Titans To Sign RB Tony Pollard

Running back dominos continue to fall early in the negotiating window. Tony Pollard is expected to join the Titans, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 reports.

Pollard will receive $24MM on a three-year pact, ESPN’s Adam Schefter adds. That marks a notable multi-year investment for Pollard, albeit one averaging less money per season than the franchise tag he played on last year. Of course, this move represents yet another indication that franchise icon Derrick Henry will not be back.

The Cowboys were interested in a re-up for Pollard. The Giants and Vikings were also suitors for the 26-year-old, Dianna Russini of the Athletic reports. She notes Pollard took a larger offer to head to Tennessee, something which is notable given a recent report indicating he was prepared to take less on a new Dallas accord.

Pollard was one of three running backs who played on the franchise tag last year. Like Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs, he delivered an underwhelming performance in 2023. The former fourth-rounder reached 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight season, but he did so while averaging 1.2 fewer yards per carry than the year before. That low-mark in efficiency came about while logging 252 carries, by far the most of his five-year Dallas tenure.

The Cowboys aimed to make Pollard a feature back by releasing Ezekiel Elliott last offseason. The former struggled in that role considering his drop in efficiency. With Tennessee, Pollard will still remain atop the RB depth chart, one featuring a major vacancy with Henry no longer in place. However, he will be joined by 2023 third-rounder Tyjae Spears, who impressed in a quasi-committee setup with Henry last year.

The ground game will look much different in 2024 in Nashville with Pollard in place and new head coach Brian Callahan operating the offense. The team has moved quickly in securing a Henry replacement, though; Dallas will now be a team to watch as a team in need of a starting back.

Texans Likely To Pursue Tony Pollard, D’Andre Swift; Team Looking To Retain Sheldon Rankins, Steven Nelson

Nick Caserio has bargain-shopped at running back since taking over. Veterans Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram, Rex Burkhead and Devin Singletary have been among the low-cost options to stop through Houston during the GM’s three-year tenure. The team looks to be aiming a bit higher this year, though it is unclear how much higher.

Saquon Barkley-Texans interest surfaced recently, and KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson reiterates the Giants running back’s reciprocated interest in a Houston deal. The Texans, however, are expected to pursue several running backs; Tony Pollard and D’Andre Swift are among the targets, according to Wilson.

Pollard and Swift are unlikely to cost what Barkley will. The two-time Giants Pro Bowler is expected to be this year’s most expensive back, and his market could well surpass $10MM per year. That may be too rich for the Giants, who had been expected to make an offer but had not done so as of this week. Barkley’s contract will provide a key update on modern RB value, whereas Pollard and Swift figure to be more affordable.

While Barkley had banked more than $48MM between his rookie contract and a 2023 franchise tag, Pollard saw his value hindered by the Cowboys’ tag decision last year. Pollard made just more than $3MM on his rookie deal and $10.1MM on the tag. Based on his 2022 Pro Bowl showing, the former fourth-round pick would have generated a better market last year. Pollard was less impressive as the Cowboys’ go-to back. He produced fewer scrimmage yards (1,316) than in 2022 and saw his yards-per-carry number crater from 5.2 to 4.0 despite Dallas rolling out a three-All-Pro O-line. Still, Pollard has been a versatile player and a key cog in an explosive Dallas offense; as of Sunday, the Cowboys are also not ruling out another agreement with their dual-threat performer.

Swift has also shown ability as a receiver and runner, impressing through the air in Detroit while being more of a ground option in Philadelphia. Following a trade from the Lions last year, Swift seized the Eagles’ starting job in Week 2 and did not miss any games. That marked new territory for Swift, who had battled through nagging injuries in Detroit. Swift posted his first 1,000-yard rushing season — yes, with a top-tier Eagles O-line — and earned a Pro Bowl invite. At 25, he is also two years younger than Pollard.

Singletary leapfrogged Dameon Pierce on Houston’s depth chart last season, establishing new career-high marks in carries (216) and rushing yards (898). The ex-Bills third-rounder, who signed for just $1.77MM last year, displayed his usual durability in helping the Texans to the playoffs. He is expected to generate outside interest, with Wilson adding it is not a lock the 5-foot-7 back returns. Though, the former third-round pick expressed interest in staying near the end of the season. The Texans were believed to share that interest, but they look to have expanded their options as RBs are set to flood the market.

The Texans are interested in bringing back both Sheldon Rankins and Steven Nelson, Wilson adds. Rankins signed a one-year, $9.75MM deal in 2023, coming over from the Jets, who were interested in re-signing him. The former Saints first-rounder ranked seventh among interior D-linemen in pass rush win rate, totaling six sacks — his most since 2018 — and 10 QB hits. Rankins’ fit could certainly depend on how long the Texans stay in the Christian Wilkins sweepstakes.

Nelson has been a Texans CB starter for the past two years. Nelson intercepted a career-high four passes; he added a pick-six against Joe Flacco in the team’s wild-card win. Nelson turned 31 earlier this year, which should limit his market. Though, most of the top CBs on this year’s market are in their late 20s or early 30s.

Denzel Perryman would like to be part of the Texans’ 2024 equation, Wilson adds. His market did not produce much last year, however; the ex-Chargers second-rounder started 11 games and made 76 tackles. The Texans will need to make one move at linebacker, at least, with Blake Cashman also on the doorstep of free agency. Azeez Al-Shaair, who played for DeMeco Ryans in San Francisco, also has interest in coming to Houston.

Chargers, Ravens, Bears Among “Serious Suitors” For Saquon Barkley

Running back Saquon Barkley is one of the highest-profile free agents in this year’s cycle, and there have been plenty of rumors concerning his next destination already. Some of those rumors may be solidifying into something more concrete.

Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com spoke with more than a dozen managers, executives, coaches, scouts, and agents, and while there was of course some variation in their responses, most expected that Barkley would land a contract worth $10MM per year, with a three-year, $30MM pact a seemingly likely outcome.

Given the notoriously stagnant running back market, it is fair to wonder whether any team would be willing to cough up that kind of money to an RB with a concering injury history who is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.9 YPC rate. However, the consensus among Raanan’s sources was that Barkley is good enough to warrant an eight-figure-per-year deal, with one pro personnel director saying, “if he was in San Francisco, he would be Christian McCaffrey. He hasn’t had an offensive line, ever, in New York.”

So, while Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News reported that the Giants are among the teams that do not see value in authorizing a $10MM+ AAV for a running back, it seems there will be at least one other club willing to make that kind of commitment for a player with Barkley’s ability. Per Raanan, the Chargers, Ravens, and Bears are among the most serious suitors for Barkley’s services.

The Chargers are something of a curious fit here. After all, the cap-strapped outfit is allowing its own multi-threat RB, Austin Ekeler, test the market and is reportedly willing to entertain trades for some of its best players in order to alleviate its salary cap issues.

The Ravens are more of a logical suitor. Previous reports have suggested the team will prioritize a running back addition, and given the importance of the ground game to Baltimore’s offensive attack, a notable contract for an RB is more justifiable for the Ravens than it would be for many teams. That is especially true in light of the fact that Justice Hill and Keaton Mitchell — who suffered an ACL tear in Week 15 — are the only two backs currently under club control.

The Bears, meanwhile, are likely to trade quarterback Justin Fields and draft Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick. Having a QB1 on a rookie contract affords a team luxuries that it might not otherwise enjoy, and a splurge for a running back who is also adept as a receiver and who can therefore take the pressure off a young signal-caller in multiple ways makes plenty of sense.

While recent reports hinting at a Barkley-Eagles marriage were intriguing because of Philadelphia’s intra-divisional rivalry with the Giants, Raanan says neither the Eagles nor the Cowboys, another NFC East foe, are likely to meet Barkley’s asking price. Both of those teams may have RB needs, but they both seem prepared to fill those needs via a different tier of the market. Dan Graziano of ESPN.com agrees that Dallas will unlikely get involved in the Barkley sweepstakes unless he is willing to settle for a $5MM-$6MM AAV, though a Tony Pollard re-up remains in play (subscription required).

A February report indicated that the Texans were Barkley’s preferred destination. With respect to Houston’s involvement, Raanan merely writes that the club is rumored to have interest.

Tony Pollard May Take Less To Stay In Dallas

The free agent market for running back this offseason is sure to be active with such names as Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, D’Andre Swift, and Austin Ekeler all seeking new contracts. Among those names is Cowboys running back Tony Pollard, who is seeking his second multi-year contract after playing under the franchise tag in 2023. According to Calvin Watkins of The Dallas Morning News, Pollard is reportedly willing to take less money to remain with the Cowboys next year.

Pollard delivered a strong 2023 season under the franchise tag, though not nearly as strong as his 2022 season. He rushed for two fewer yards than he had in 2022 despite receiving 59 more carries. Similarly, he racked up 60 fewer receiving yards despite catching 16 more passes on 12 more targets. He also reached the end zone six times last year, only half as many times as he had scored in his Pro Bowl 2022 season.

Still, Pollard finished 12th in the league in rushing yards, outperforming Barkley (who missed three contests), Jacobs (who missed four contests), and Ekeler (who also missed three contests). Henry and Swift were the only backs listed above to outperform Pollard, and Henry’s advanced age (30) could limit his value in comparison to Pollard and Swift.

The common thought in Dallas is that Pollard expects a raise after earning $10.09MM on the franchise tag last year. That’s hard to envision, especially with this year’s free agent crop struggling to perform in contract years. Projected market values at Spotrac.com show only Henry making more than $10MM in 2024. Swift, the second-best performer of the above group this season is only projected to be worth $6.7MM per year. Spotrac has Pollard projected for a two-year, $13.05MM deal, which lands right inside the two-year, $12-14MM deal proposed by Watkins.

Pollard may be willing to take a bit of a discount to stay in Dallas, but it sounds like it would only be a slight discount. Pollard is reportedly preparing to get as many offers as possible before talking to the Cowboys. It sounds like he may give the league an opportunity to set his value and then give Dallas a chance to come in and slightly undercut that value if they want to keep him around. This could pose a risk if he waits long enough that the draft and other free agent moves influence how valuable he is to the Cowboys. We’ll see just how risky of a strategy he will employ in the weeks to come.

RBs A Priority For Ravens In Offseason

We noted something similar back in February, but the Ravens have made it clear lately that additions to the running backs group will be a priority in the offseason. Whether that comes through re-signing expiring deals, signing veteran free agents, or pursuing a rookie prospect, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic’s quote from general manager Eric DeCosta says it best: (they) need more than two running backs.

The Ravens have lots of work to do in the coming weeks with expiring contracts all over their 2023 roster, but DeCosta is fully aware of which potential departures leave them most bare. Both former undrafted veteran Gus Edwards and former second-round pick J.K. Dobbins are set to hit free agency this spring, as will late-season addition Dalvin Cook and practice squad backs Melvin Gordon and Owen Wright, though Wright, an undrafted rookie, has signed a futures deal with the team. That leaves only Justice Hill and another undrafted rookie in Keaton Mitchell as the only two running backs with in-game experience on the roster moving forward.

Hill signed a two-year deal a year ago and will now play out the final season of that contract. He had the best season of his career in 2023 but has still failed to surpass 400 rushing yards or 4 touchdowns in a season. He expanded his role this year by adding 206 receiving yards. Mitchell was a pleasant surprise as a rookie, touting an outstanding 8.43 yards per carry average in eight games played. The diminutive back flashed elite speed and play-making ability when healthy, but a torn ACL midway through December leaves the team without their explosive second-year player for likely the entire offseason.

In our previous discussion on the subject, we laid out the cases for Dobbins and Edwards. Dobbins showed incredible upside as a rookie but has since struggled mightily to stay on the field. Edwards had been a reliable short-yardage and goal-line back in the early days of Jackson’s career, backing up Mark Ingram before teaming up with Dobbins and Hill. The big-bodied back with the nickname “Gus the Bus” has six years under his belt but showed no signs of slowing with a career-high 990 scrimmage yards and 13 rushing touchdowns this season. At the NFL scouting combine DeCosta made it known that the organization has not shut the door on the idea of bringing the two back. In fact, DeCosta claimed the team was “hopeful (they) can get something done with those guys,” per Ravens staff writers Clifton Brown and Ryan Mink.

We also explored the idea of free agency in our previous post. There are a number of big names hitting the open market this offseason, and Baltimore has already been connected to a few. Titans bell-cow Derrick Henry has been linked to the team since the days of the trade deadline. Other notable names like the Giants’ Saquon Barkley, the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, and the Cowboys’ Tony Pollard have been mentioned, as well.

In the draft, there a couple intriguing names to look at like Michigan rusher Blake Corum or Texas running back Jonathon Brooks, but Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen is a name that has been making the rounds in Baltimore. If the team fails to sign any of the above veterans, expect the Ravens to pursue one of these players early in the draft. If a big name puts pen to paper, though, Baltimore will likely be content to take a late-round addition or even peruse the undrafted dregs once again.

Regardless, additions are going to be necessary in 2024. Especially with Mitchell coming back from a serious injury, the team can’t well expect to find success with only him, Hill, and Wright heading into the 2024 NFL season. Whether they bring back Edwards or Dobbins, sign a big-name in free agency like Henry or Barkley, or draft a high-end prospect, somebody will have to join the three currently in the running backs room.

Cowboys RBs Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle Will Reach Free Agency

The Cowboys made a notable but expected move last offseason by cutting Ezekiel Elliott. The move brought an end to the former rushing champion’s time in Dallas, and it allowed a new group of backs to operate in his place.

The position was led in 2023 by Tony Pollard, who flashed potential as a lead back during his time splitting reps with Elliott. Playing on the franchise tag, Pollard entered the season with considerable expectations, but his production was relatively underwhelming. The former fourth-rounder again reached 1,000 rushing yards, but he did so while averaging 1.2 fewer yards per carry than he did in 2022.

As a result, Pollard’s performance would make a second tag (valued at $12.1MM) a non-starter for the Cowboys. Indeed, the 26-year-old will be allowed to reach the open market next month, Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News reports. The same is also true of backup Rico Dowdle, who has been with the team since 2020.

Dowdle’s role has been a minor one for much of his tenure, but earned the No. 2 spot during training camp last summer. Having seen only seven regular season carries before this season, the former UDFA received 89 in 2023. Dowdle produced 361 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, adding 144 yards and another pair of scores in the passing game. The 25-year-old could search out a more prominent role in free agency, although the list of high-profile veterans at the position will no doubt hinder the market for all involved.

If Pollard and Dowdle both depart, running back will be a position to watch closely in Dallas. The team’s third-leading rusher amongst running backs last season was rookie Deuce Vaughnwho saw just 23 carries. Even an uptick in usage for 2024 and beyond would need to be accompanied by an addition at the top of the depth chart. Saquon BarkleyJosh Jacobs, Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler are among the backs set to reach free agency next month, so Dallas will have a number of options to choose from. Of course, new deals for Pollard and/or Dowdle should not be ruled out if they can be retained on cost-effective deals.

Examining Statuses Of 2023 RB Franchise Tag Recipients

One of the key talking points during the 2023 offseason was the continued downward slide of the running back market. High-profile players at the position met to discuss the matter, but to little surprise those efforts did not yield a firm plan for the future.

Three backs were hit with the franchise tag last spring: Saquon Barkley (Giants), Josh Jacobs (Raiders) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys). The latter quickly decided to sign his one-year tender, but the other two took until well past the deadline for extensions to be worked out for their immediate futures to become clear. Both Barkley, and later Jacobs, agreed to one-year pacts worth a higher maximum value than those of the tags. Now, all three face the prospect of a second tag or – far more likely – a trip to free agency.

With the RB market set to feature a longer list of names in 2024 than it did last offseason, teams will have a number of experienced options to choose from. An evaluation of each ’23 tag recipient’s performance this past year will no doubt be a key factor in determining the value for Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard. Here is a side-by-side look at each back’s production in 2022 compared to their totals while playing on the tag (or one-year equivalent):

Saquon Barkley (Age in Week 1: 27)

2022 (16 games): 18.4 carries per game, 1,312 yards, 10 touchdowns (57-338 receiving statline)
2023 (14 games): 17.6 carries per game, 962 yards, six touchdowns (41-280-4 receiving)

The Giants ran up against the 2023 tag deadline needing to find a way forward with both Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones. The four-year, $160MM commitment made to the latter allowed the tag to be used on the former, despite his track record as the focal point of New York’s offense when healthy. Barkley missed time in 2023 due to an ankle injury, and the Giants underperformed with and without him during a forgettable campaign. Still, New York’s offense will be lacking in playmakers even if Barkley is retained for 2024.

A trip to free agency is now expected, though, something the former No. 2 pick has publicly welcomed. No doors have been shut with respect to a Giants agreement being reached, but few circumstances (if any) have tangibly changed compared to last year. New York made a series of offers with an inversely proportional relationship between AAV and guaranteed figures during last offseason’s negotiations and a different approach this time around would come as a surprise.

Barkley out-rushed backup Matt Breida by 811 yards, so his departure would create a massive void at the RB spot. The Giants are likely to use the No. 6 pick in April’s draft on a much-needed offensive playmaker or a Jones successor, and either move will help their outlook in the passing game. The ground attack would face serious questions without Barkley in the fold or an impactful replacement, although one could be acquired in a more cost-effective manner through the draft or a short-term veteran addition. Barkley’s pedigree could make him the most attractive free agent running back option in 2024, and it would be interesting to see how willing New York would be to win a bidding war.

Josh Jacobs (Age in Week 1: 26)

2022 (17 games): 20 carries per game, 1,653 yards, 12 touchdowns (53-400 receiving)
2023 (13 games): 17.9 carries per game, 805 yards, six touchdowns (37-296 receiving)

Jacobs led the NFL in touches during the only full season with Josh McDaniels at the helm. That resulted in league-leading rushing and scrimmage yard totals, but the Alabama product saw a downturn in usage on the ground and in the air when on the field in 2023. His missed the final four games of the campaign, a span during which McDaniels’ replacement (Antonio Pierce) helped his case to have the interim head coach label removed.

Pierce is indeed in place on a full-time basis, something Jacobs and a number of other players endorsed. Vegas is willing to explore a deal with the two-time Pro Bowler, but the price point will be worth watching with respect to new general manager Tom Telesco. The latter was in charge of a Chargers regime which allowed Austin Ekeler to seek out a trade in lieu of extending him. Ekeler joined Barkley and Jacobs in agreeing to a re-worked pact last offseason which has him in line for free agency this March. Telesco could be inclined to repeat his aversion to a long-term RB commitment in Jacobs’ case.

The Raiders have a potential Jacobs replacement in the form of Zamir White. The 2022 fourth-rounder averaged 4.1 yards per carry this season, and he eclipsed 100 rushing yards in two of the four games Jacobs missed to finish the campaign. White has two years remaining on his rookie contract, so placing him atop the depth chart and drafting another member of the backfield would be a more cost-effective direction to take. Vegas is expected to pursue a quarterback addition, something which could require cap resources otherwise available to Jacobs if it takes the form of a free agent signing or trade acquisition.

Tony Pollard (Age in Week 1: 27)

2022 (16 games): 12.2 carries per game, 1,007 yards, nine touchdowns (39-371-3 receiving)
2023 (17 games): 14.8 carries per game, 1,005 yards, six touchdowns (55-311 receiving)

As expected, the Cowboys moved on from Ezekiel Elliott once no guaranteed salary remained on his deal. That paved the way for Pollard to take on an undisputed No. 1 role in 2023, as showcased by his increased touches. The Memphis alum’s efficiency suffered a notable drop, though; his 4.0 yards per carry in 2023 represented the lowest of his career. With questions in place regarding Pollard’s production as a full-time starter, a lucrative deal would increase expectations in his production further while complicating an already unenviable cap situation.

Dallas’ offseason will be defined in large part by the team’s ability to work out a Dak Prescott extension. The veteran quarterback possess extraordinary leverage in advance of negotiations on a pact both sides are eager to hammer out. The Cowboys will likely also need to prepare market-setting extensions for wideout CeeDee Lamb and edge rusher Micah Parsons over the next two years, and re-signing Pollard would hinder those efforts. Allowing him to depart would create a major vacancy in the backfield, though.

Pollard and second-leading rusher Rico Dowdle (361 yards) are both pending free agents. The leading Cowboys rusher amongst RBs who are under contract for next season is Deuce Vaughn, who received only 23 carries as a rookie. Pollard has considerably more tread left on his tires than Barkley, Jacobs and a number of other free agent backs due to his time as Elliott’s backup. That (coupled with the lack of an obvious successor) could help his value and his effort to secure longer term on his next contact, albeit something which will come off the back of a relatively underwhelming year. At any rate, a tag for Pollard or any other Cowboy would come as a surprise.

The 2023 franchise tag cost $10.1MM at the running back position. In the case of Pollard and Barkley (whose one-year deal contained incentives paired with an identical base value), a second tag would cost $12.1MM. For Jacobs – who landed a slightly higher salary on his contract – a 2024 tag would check in at a price of $13.67MM.

Considering the performances of each member of the trio, their respective teams could aim to take another route this offseason and likely save considerable cap space in the process. Given the nature of their statistical showings, hesitancy on the part of interested teams with respect to a new agreement after another season of wear and tear would also be understandable. Further hurting the market for Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard is the depth of other veteran rushers set to be available.

Ekeler, along with two-time rushing champion Derrick Henry, is a pending free agent. The same is also true of 25-year-olds J.K. Dobbins and D’Andre Swift, who have each played out their rookie contracts and could profile as having higher upside given their age. While this year’s draft class is not viewed as having a plethora of impact prospects, recent history has shown teams can find production after Day 1 when looking to avoid expensive commitments at the position. For Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard, those factors will likely make it a challenge to secure multiple years of guaranteed money on their next pacts, regardless of where they come from.

Jones: Cowboys Submitted Long-Term Offer To RB Tony Pollard

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.

The Cowboys are not believed to have engaged in serious negotiations with Pollard, but executive VP Stephen Jones confirms (via the Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken) the team submitted an offer. Jones said the team made Pollard a long-term proposal, but it is unknown if the dual-threat back gave serious consideration to accepting it.

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.

The team has higher priorities on the extension front. Trevon Diggs just signed an extension that pays him top-five money at his position. CeeDee Lamb‘s eventual payout will cost the Cowboys more, and the team has Terence Steele on its extension docket as well. Perennial All-Pro Zack Martin is also waging a holdout.

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.