On Tuesday afternoon, news surfaced that the Dallas Cowboys are expected to place the franchise tag on Tony Pollard for the 2023 season. This move would guarantee Pollard a one-year deal worth $10 million and keep him from hitting free agency. It also extends the time frame in which the front office can work out a long-term contract if that is the ultimate goal.
While nothing has been officially confirmed by the team, this has been one of the more likely scenarios before the season even ended. With Ezekiel Elliott aging out of an expensive contract, Dallas is likely looking at some difficult decisions over the offseason. Locking down Pollard for at least another year would help to mitigate what might otherwise be a completely new running back room.
Dallas Cowboys Expected to Franchise Tag Tony Pollard
Pollard had his best season in 2022, amassing 1,000 rushing yards and almost 400 receiving. Those numbers, combined with his 12 touchdowns, are all career bests. For the first time since drafting Pollard in 2019, Dallas had a fully split backfield between Pollard and Elliott. His explosiveness mixed with Elliott’s continued ability to grind out yards makes for a truly productive tandem. Even when Elliot missed two games to injury, Pollard had over 100 yards rushing in each. Unfortunately, Pollard suffered a broken leg and high ankle sprain in the Dallas postseason loss to San Francisco. His recovery, along with the money involved, is massive if Pollard is tagged.
Tony Pollard underwent surgery Tuesday on a broken left fibula and high ankle sprain he suffered in the Cowboys’ divisional round playoff loss to San Francisco, per source. Should be full strength well before training camp. Set to be an unrestricted free agent in March.
— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) January 24, 2023
Franchise Tag Creates an Expensive Backfield
Part of the issue lies—as it usually does in the league—with the money. Placing the franchise tag on Tony Pollard would guarantee him $10 million in 2023. That would be just ahead of Saquon Barkley and behind Aaron Jones in terms of annual value. It is certainly pricey looking at other running back salaries, but it isn’t outrageous. However, Elliott is slated to account for $16.7M against the cap in 2023. That, by all accounts, is outrageous. If the Cowboys are considering the franchise tag for Tony Pollard, that means something must happen with Elliott’s cap figure.
Dallas could potentially cut Elliott outright, creating a dead cap hit of $11.8 million and $4.9 million in savings. If the front office is being honest in their media sessions, the Cowboys want Elliot here for the long haul. There is word that Elliott would be open to a pay cut as well. To his unending credit, Elliott has been nothing short of a superb teammate through these transitions. As Pollard’s role has expanded, Elliot has been a mentor and supporter by all accounts. Throughout the season, any questions about splitting playing time were met with encouragement and praise for Pollard. Such good chemistry and familiarity will certainly be considered as the Cowboys move forward. The team would undoubtedly like to keep both around for one more season at least. It just comes down to how much the front office is going to commit to the position.
Who Else Could Get The Franchise Tag?
Tony Pollard is one of a few different candidates reportedly being considered for the franchise tag. Dalton Schultz was the recipient last season after a breakout campaign that saw the tight end reel in 78 catches for 808 yards and 8 touchdowns. The numbers are less compelling for 2022, due in part to two missed games (PCL injury) and Prescott’s extended absence. There has been chatter that Schultz could receive the franchise tag again in 2023, but the Cowboys also drafted two tight ends last year. Peyton Hendershot and Jake Ferguson both flashed as rookies and could be primed to take over tandem starting duties.
JAKE FERGUSON GOT ALL THE WAY UP
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/NfmrO97Wq2
— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) November 25, 2022
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is another priority-free agent the team wants to keep around. While his 2022 season saw a return to his early pro-bowl form, the franchise tag for a linebacker is $21 million. There is no feasible reason to tag a player that can be kept for far less. The same can be said for most of the other players slated to become free agents in 2023. Tight end and running back are also the two lowest tags in terms of salary. In all likelihood, it comes down to Schultz or Tony Pollard for the franchise tag this season.
Making it Count
If Dallas does in fact place the franchise tag on Tony Pollard, the pressure would be on him to continue on as one of the Cowboys’ premiere weapons. Injury aside, his presence is necessary for the Dallas Cowboys’ success, especially with the changes taking place on offense. This move would almost certainly mean the end of either Schultz, Elliott—or maybe both—in a Dallas uniform. The deadline to place the tag on a player is March 7th, so official news is on the horizon. If the Dallas Cowboys plan to use the franchise tag in 2023, Tony Pollard is the best option. The front office will need to do some restructuring and reconfiguring throughout the roster to get under the cap, and this might be a critical step in that process.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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