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Tough Questions Surround the Dallas Cowboys’ Backfield

The Cowboys need their backfield now more than ever, but head coach Mike McCarthy should seriously consider who deserves a majority of the carries.

The combination of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard may force the Dallas Cowboys to make some tough decisions in the future.

In order to weather the storm without starting quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys need both backfield runners to pace the offense and alleviate pressure off Cooper Rush.

They’re a solid duo, no question. But in this case, the former superstar and RB1 Elliott is declining, while Pollard, the silent assassin RB2, is evolving right in front of our eyes.

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They got the job done in a Week 3 victory over the Giants, rushing for 176 yards on 30 total carries — their 126 first-half rush yards marked Dallas’s most in a first half since Week 4 of 2017.

The dynamic around the two has forced a tough question in the Big D: Who’s the more reliable running back?

Is it the NFL’s highest-paid RB in Elliott or is it the brutally underpaid Pollard? And how does head coach Mike McCarthy balance their touches without hurting any egos — or the team?

Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sounded a little conflicted before the season.

“We gotta have Tony Pollard out there. Zeke’s gotta be our feature, and he is our feature,” Jones said in July. “We all recognize what he does in the passing game because of his protection ability. Don’t ever underestimate that especially with Zeke.”

We’ll try and help him out here…

Zeke vs. Pollard

Ezekiel Elliott

40 attempts
178 yards
4.4 YPC
1 TD

Tony Pollard

28 attempts
156 yards
5.6 YPC
1 TD

Contract and Salary Breakdown

RB1: Ezekiel Elliott

  • Years: 6
  • Total value: $90 million
  • Average annual value: $15 million
  • Guaranteed at signing: $28.05 million
  • Total guaranteed money: $50.05 million
  • Free agency: 2027 (potential out after 2023)

The Cowboys can technically restructure his deal or release him after the 2023 season, but they’d have to take an $11.8 million dead cap hit. On the bright side, they’d wipe the final four years off his deal.

He isn’t producing the way a No. 1 option should, and certainly not the way you’d expect the league’s highest-paid RB to execute. That leads us to his backup… or maybe, soon-to-be successor.

RB2: Tony Pollard

  • Years: 4
  • Total value: $3.18 million
  • 2022 Salary: $965,000
  • Average annual value: $796,945
  • Guaranteed at signing: $667,780
  • Total guaranteed money: $667,780
  • Free agency: 2023 UFA

There’s little doubt that Pollard will be one of the most coveted free agent running backs come late February, joining the likes of Kareem Hunt, Saquon Barkley, and David Montgomery.

And though RBs are terribly underpaid, Pollard’s stellar play might force Jerry Jones to pay him — or someone else will.

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About The Author
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. Puccio has 10 years of experience in journalism and content creation, previously working for SB Nation, The Associated Press, New York Daily News, SNY, and Front Office Sports. In 2016, he received New York University's CCTOP scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in Communications from St. John's University. He can be spotted a mile away thanks to his plaid suits and thick New York accent. Don't believe us? Check his Twitter @APooch.