The Dallas Cowboys' plans at running back, one of the NFL offseason's big mysteries, got a new shot of intrigue at the NFL scouting combine.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones addressed the statuses of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard with Yahoo Sports' Jori Epstein, acknowledging that Elliott's contract might need some tinkering and that the team will "more than likely" use the franchise tag, but possibly not on Pollard.
Moving parts in Cowboys RB room with hefty Ezekiel Elliott contract, Tony Pollard contract up.
Stephen Jones on Zeke: “He’s making a lot of money, and he knows that.”
Also: “More than likely we’ll use the franchise tag. Not necessarily on Tony, but (likely) we’ll use it.”
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) February 28, 2023
If Pollard isn't tagged, the Cowboys' only other significant option would be tight end Dalton Schultz, who received the franchise tag last offseason and is set to hit free agency again this summer.
Who will Cowboys franchise tag?
Tagging Pollard would come at a price of $10.1 million, the value of the running back franchise tag this year. Tagging Schultz, however, would cost $13.1 million, which is 120% of last year's figure due to his second franchise tag.
Safety Donovan Wilson could also be a possibility at $14.5 million.
NFL rules only allow one player to be tagged per offseason, with a decision deadline of March 8.
Both offensive players are coming off productive seasons in the Cowboys offense. Pollard posted a career-high 1,007 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry, nine rushing touchdowns, 371 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. Schultz had 577 receiving yards and five touchdowns, both figures second on the team behind CeeDee Lamb.
The elephant in the room here, as always, is Elliott's contract, which runs for four more years with a $16.7 million cap hit next season, but it could also be offloaded as soon as this offseason for about $4.9 million in cap savings. Elliott is coming off a career-worst season in which he posted 876 rushing yards on 3.8 yards per carry plus 12 touchdowns, nine of which came from within the 5-yard line.
An Elliott release or restructure would likely have a major effect on the Cowboys' decision-making at running back. Jones also hinted the Cowboys, who pick 26th in the 2023 NFL Draft, might be interested in taking a running back in the first round.
Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones said, from a philosophical standpoint, he is not opposed to drafting a running back in first round. But it depends where in the round. “If you’re taking a player in the top half, you’re hoping you’ve got a player who is going to be here for 10 years.”
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) February 28, 2023
Clearly, the Cowboys have a lot of options at running back, but they have shown over the last several seasons they won't follow conventional wisdom at the position, so stay tuned on how that works out.