The Dallas Cowboys' business at running back could be pretty simple in the 2021 offseason. As we continue our Position Preview series, we'll look at how all of the talent from last year is under contract and could allow the team to just run it back with the same group next season.
“Could” is the operative word in that sentence. While Dallas has that option, SHOULD they stand pat at the RB and FB positions or take advantage of any opportunities for current or future upgrades?
Here's the group as currently constituted:
2021 Running Back & Fullback Contract Statuses
- RB Signed
- FB Signed
- Free Agents
U = Unrestricted, R = Restricted, E = Exclusive Rights
Ezekiel Elliott is still in the early stages of the multiyear contract he signed in 2019. Tony Pollard is halfway through his four-year rookie contract, while Rico Dowdle and Sewo Olonilua are still with the team following their undrafted rookie years in 2020.
Jamize Olawale is scheduled to return to the Cowboys in 2021 after opting out last year under the COVID-19 policy. We don't know yet what the pandemic will mean for the 2021 season, but right now we can only work with the assumption that Jamize will be back.
Again, this sets the stage for Dallas to do very little at either the RB or FB positions this offseason. They have a full crew under contract and may even be protected against another opt-out by Olawale thanks to having Olonilua.
Elliott and Pollard are the clear one-two punch for the Cowboys run game in 2021. Even if there are worries about Zeke's long-term viability with his massive contract, there's no benefit to the salary cap by cutting him this year. 2022 will provide the first reasonable opportunity to get out from the deal.
The hope is that you won't want to shed the contract after this season. If Dallas gets the offensive line back in order and has Dak Prescott running the show again on offense, Elliott will hopefully return to form and justify his significant cap hit.
With no realistic scenario for Zeke leaving the RB1 spot in 2021, that leaves Tony Pollard as a highly capable backup and change-of-pace option. And with Pollard signed through 2022, that gives the Cowboys freedom to not worry about investing much in the position until next season at the earliest.
Rico Dowdle is another cause for comfort on the RB depth chart. Though he only got seven touches on offense last year, Dowdle shined on special teams both as a kick returner and in coverage units. While he may get some competition for the bottom of the roster, those traits will make him hard to beat.
At fullback, I'm intrigued to see what Jamize Olawale could do as Kellen Moore continues to grow as offensive coordinator and with Mike McCarthy's influence. Olawale has proven in his career that he can do damage if you get him the ball, and McCarthy's Green Bay offenses often had some of the league's most productive fullbacks.
Sewo Olonilua was also effective as an offensive weapon during his TCU days and spent last year on Dallas' practice squad. He began to conversion to fullback last year and could be ready to compete for the job now.
Dallas got by most of last year with a lot of single-back formations or using their tight ends as backfield blockers. They may not feel a great need to keep a true FB on the roster now, but there's no denying that Ezekiel Elliott's best days were when there was a proficient lead blocker running ahead of him.
That could push the Cowboys to look for a fullback this offseason. If they're not sure about Olawale's desire to return or Olonilua's ability to step up, perhaps they look to a veteran free agent to solidify the position.
It's hard to estimate the value that Dallas places on fullback in 2021 as our past data is mainly from the Jason Garrett Era. Who knows what McCarthy and Moore had thought to do with Olawale before COVID-19 took him off the roster?
So yes, Dallas may be just fine with who they have at FB and RB and not spend any additional resources this offseason. Other than bringing in some bottom-tier free agents or undrafted rookies as training camp bodies, this should be a relatively quiet spot for the roster in 2021.
Given the turmoil at other positions, that isn't a bad thing.
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Other Cowboys 2021 Position Previews
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