Despite being just a 4th-round pick, Running Back Tony Pollard is now easily the best player from the Cowboys' 2019 draft class. With that group's rookie contracts all expiring after this season, Pollard's impending free agency will be a focal point throughout 2022.
With the 2019 1st-round pick going to the Raiders for Amari Cooper, the next two picks were DT Trysten Hill and G Connor McGovern. As things currently stand, Hill might not even make the roster and McGovern will likely be a backup only in their fourth seasons. Safety Donovan Wilson is the only other player from the Day 3 picks still with the team.
Pollard, on the other hand, is coming off a breakout season for Dallas. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in combined offensive yardage and posted a 28.8 average on kickoff returns, including his first special teams touchdown. By the end of 2021, many were even declaring Tony the Cowboys' best RB over Ezekiel Elliott.
We've since learned that Zeke was playing through a partially torn knee ligament last year. While Pollard certainly made the most of his opportunities, Elliott will remain the starter and likely workhorse in Dallas' offense. The team appears committed to their superstar.
Prepare yourself now; every week could be a referendum on who should be the Cowboys' top back. Between complaints about Zeke being overpayed and fear that Pollard could be lost in the 2023 offseason, it will naturally be a constant conversation even if both players are performing well.
Next year presents a chance for Dallas to get some salary cap relief by moving on from Elliott. Even if Zeke has one of his best seasons in 2022 there will still be some who want the Cowboys to shed that contract and reallocate funds to other positions. The notion that running backs aren't worth heavy financial investment is on the rise.
Unfortunately, that philosophy would not lend itself to retaining Tony Pollard as a free agent. While he might not command the same massive contract that Elliott got a few years ago, Pollard should still be an attractive starting option for someone. He'll turn 26 next April and, barring a change in 2022, hasn't had injury issues thus far in his career.
That said, after Leonard Fournette only got $7 million per season in his new deal with Tampa Bay, the market for running backs appears to be shifting. The perception that teams like Dallas and Carolina have suffered under the megadeals signed by Zeke and Christian McCaffrey may be perpetuating the rising trend in RB devaluation.
One potential scenario could be a midseason trade. If Elliott is looking good and the Cowboys like what they have in Rico Dowdle or other backups, they might be tempted to move Pollard for guaranteed draft pick compensation rather than wait to see what the compensatory formula would offer.
Even then, though, Pollard's expiring contract would limit how much a team would be willing to give up for him unless there's a guaranteed extension as part of the deal.
Dallas will not be quick to break up their dynamic duo at running back. Pollard's versatility could be more valuable than ever in 2022 as the Cowboys deal with Michael Gallup's injury and the sweeping changes at receiver.
Since he flashed so much potential as a rookie, Tony Pollard has been a consistent hot topic the last three years. Now the threat of his departure, plus the angst over Ezekiel Elliott's performance and contract, will only intensify the conversation.