We've put the Front Office, the Coaches, and the Quarterback under the microscope so far. Today we take a few steps further into the Cowboys' backfield.
The running backs take center stage, led by Tony Pollard, and likely an unpopular conclusion.
ZEKE'S LEGS ARE GONE
There. I said it. Ezekiel Elliott has been a great running back for the Dallas Cowboys.
If the 2022 season proved anything it showed that Elliott's days as the RB1 are in his rearview mirror. He doesn't have a next gear anymore to get him through a hole and downfield.
His best asset now is he can pound on the middle of the defense while Tony Pollard's speed carves them up.
Basically, he's become a fullback. With a 2023 cap hit, per Spotrac, of just under $17 million he's an expensive fullback.
Reportedly, Elliott is willing to take a pay cut to stay in Dallas.
Would he be willing to take a cut big enough to make it worth keeping him? Especially if those funds could be better spent in the other areas of need for the Cowboys?
The amateur General Manager in me says it is time to part ways with Elliott. A shame, considering he deserves a better sendoff than that last play against the 49ers in January.
He ranks third in all-time rushing yards for the Cowboys (8,262) behind Emmitt Smith (17,162) and Tony Dorsett (12,036).
Some day soon, his name will be up on the Ring of Honor.
But the Cowboys have better options going forward than an aging back whose legs are clearly used up.
THE ERA OF TONY POLLARD HAS BEGUN
Pollard picked the right year to have a breakout season.
Despite only starting four games, he cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He also proved to be a threat in the passing attack as well.
As an unrestricted free agent, Pollard is going to get paid in 2023, even with the high ankle injury he suffered against the 49ers. He's expected to be ready to go before training camp opens.
You can also expect the Cowboys to use the Franchise Tag on Pollard and try to work out a long-term contract later.
Another reason why Elliott may have played his last game as a Cowboy.
The long-term looks much better for Pollard, whose legs are much fresher. But, even with Zeke's departure, the Cowboys will need to address their backfield.
A strong running game will take pressure off Dak Prescott.
How does Dallas accomplish this?
Can Malik Davis be the answer? Personally, I don't think so. But given he hasn't gotten many reps, it's a hard call to make.
The best answer is with the 26th pick of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Unless they somehow steal Derrick Henry away from the Titans, like the Eagles did with A.J. Brown. I think the salary cap blocks that move, however.
So we're looking at the 26th pick and, according to more than one mock draft, Bijan Robinson from Texas.
As a disclaimer, I'm a huge fan of Robinson. I also think he would complement Pollard perfectly. The problem is that Robinson might not still be there at 26.
One mock draft has the Eagles grabbing Robinson if they lose Miles Sanders to free agency.
Which means if the Cowboys want to address their running back room by grabbing Robinson, they'll need to consider trading up. The Cowboys don't exactly have that kind of history in the draft.
If Bijan Robinson is gone by the time they pick, they'll need to wait until the second or third round. There they can choose from Roschon Johnson (Texas), Tank Bigsby (Auburn), Zach Charbonnet (UCLA), Kendre Miller (TCU), or a host of others in a deep class.
But, barring a trade or a free agent signing, the Cowboys must find Zeke's replacement before the opening kickoff of the 2023 season.
Otherwise we're looking at another year of Prescott trying to force the ball downfield through the air.
And we've all seen how poorly that movie ends, haven't we?