Cowboys use franchise tag on RB Tony Pollard

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have placed their franchise tag on running back Tony Pollard, the team announced Monday.

The 2023 franchise tender for a running back is worth $10.09 million, which immediately counts against the Cowboys' salary cap whether he signs the tender immediately or not. The deadline for teams to use the franchise tag is Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

The Cowboys would like to sign Pollard to a multiyear deal and met with his agent at last week's scouting combine. If they are unable to reach an agreement by July 15, Pollard would have to play the season on the tag.

A fourth-round draft pick in 2019, Pollard had a breakout season in 2022 and earned a Pro Bowl spot after eclipsing 1,000 yards (1,007) for the first time in his career, although surgery to repair a high ankle sprain suffered in the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers kept him out of the Pro Bowl Games festivities.

Pollard, who has the traits of a lead back with a dual-threat upside, is expected to be 100% before the start of training camp. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said from the combine that the injury will not impact the team's desire for a contract agreement.

The decision on Pollard is likely to affect Ezekiel Elliott, who is slated to make $10.9 million and count $16.72 million against the cap in 2023. The Cowboys could approach Elliott regarding a significant pay cut or save $4.8 million with his release. If they designate him as a post-June 1 cut, the Cowboys would save $10.9 million against the cap but Elliott would count roughly $6 million against the 2024 cap.

There was a changing of the guard at running back in 2022 even though Elliott started 14 of the 15 games he played. Pollard also had career highs in carries (193) and touchdowns (12), while his 5.94 yards per touch was the highest among NFL running backs with a minimum of 150 touches. Christian McCaffrey came in second at 5.71 yards per touch. Elliott had a career-low 876 yards rushing, missing two games because of a knee injury, but scored 12 rushing touchdowns.

In 2019, Elliott signed a six-year extension worth $90 million that included $50 million guaranteed. This is the first year he is not due any guaranteed money in the contract. If the Cowboys decide to move on from Elliott, they have Malik Davis on the roster but will look to add another running back in the draft or free agency.

Although he is known for his speed, Pollard also showed an ability after contact, leading the league with 3.82 yards per rush after the initial hit. Pollard averaged 5.22 yards per carry in 2022, which was third best among running backs.

There should not be concern over too much work for Pollard. In four seasons, he has 510 carries for 2,616 yards and 121 receptions for 1,008 yards. Elliott had 564 carries in the first two years of his career.

This is the sixth straight year the Cowboys have used the franchise tag, starting with DeMarcus Lawrence in 2018. They used it again on Lawrence in 2019 but were able to reach an agreement on a five-year deal before the July deadline.

Dak Prescott played under the tag in 2020, and he got tagged again in 2021 before agreeing to a four-year, $160 million deal. Last year, tight end Dalton Schultz played on the tag, earning $10.9 million.

With Pollard under the tag in 2023, Schultz will likely hit the open market and find a contract higher than the Cowboys are willing to pay. The Cowboys have also used the tag on Flozell Adams (2002), Ken Hamlin (2008), Anthony Spencer (2012, 2013) and Dez Bryant (2015). The team was able to reach long-term deals with Hamlin and Bryant.