Tony Pollard’s 2023 NFL Free Agency: Return to Cowboys among the best spots for running backs to land

Running backs aren’t typically the most sought-after players in the free hand these days. The league has largely recognized the fungibility of the position, and the best of the best usually get their long-term deals before they have a chance to hit the open market. However, that could change this off-season.

There are several high-profile defenders who may hit free agency in a couple of weeks. One of those high-profile defensemen is Tony Pollard, who is enjoying the best season of his NFL career. Pollard is one of the most explosive players in the league, regardless of position, and a home run threat every time he touches the ball. Why on earth it took his own team so long to realize this is unclear (hint: it’s proprietary), but interested observers have known of Pollard’s elite abilities for some time.

Pollard had never played more than 35% of the Cowboys’ snaps prior to this season, when he eventually hit the 53% mark. All he did with that opportunity was rush for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns 193 times, which was the third time in four seasons he surpassed 5.2 yards per carry. (The only time he didn’t do that was the season when Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins and Zack Martin all got injured.) Pollard also added 39 catches for 371 yards and three extra points and proved its prowess as a pass-catching threat. All of that was good enough to earn him his first career Pro Bowl nod, and in the playoffs it looked like he was finally gearing up to finally take over the reins from Ezekiel Elliott completely… before retiring during the The Cowboys’ loss to the leg broke 49ers.

Now Pollard will hit free agency after suffering a serious injury. He’s still only 25, however, and has less wear and tear than a typical player of his skill level (due to the Cowboys’ gross underutilization in his first four years in the league). So the market for it could be pretty robust. What are the most likely (or most interesting) landing sites? Let’s take a look.

1. Dallas Cowboys

Honestly, the list doesn’t need to be much longer. The cowboys were pretty telegraph openly that they’ll be using the franchise tag this off-season, and Pollard is easily the likeliest candidate to do so. Unless Pollard agrees to a long-term deal in the next few days, he looks likely to be called up for the day.

When Pollard hits free agency, I would expect Sean Payton’s new team to be very interested in his services. Pollard shares many similarities with New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who the Cowboys repeatedly compared Pollard to in the offseason prior to his rookie year. It would be a bit risky to take Pollard off his broken leg and have him work with Javonte Williams, who has just torn his cruciate ligament. but it would also allow the Broncos to handle both players’ workloads.

Miami’s attack is based on one thing: speed and using it to create explosive plays. Pollard fits that ethos perfectly, as we saw during his time in Dallas. We also saw last offseason that the Dolphins aren’t afraid to spend money on the running back position, which they did by signing both Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert. Edmonds got washed out pretty quickly and Mostert is aging, so the Dolphins also brought in Jeff Wilson Jr. mid last year. However, they may be motivated to dip into the free-agent market again to get a back. If so, Pollard makes a lot of sense.

Former Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is now in the same role as the Chargers. LA already has a running back star in Austin Ekeler, but he’s been very open about not wanting too much work on his plate. Bringing in Pollard would help keep both guys fresh and also ensure that a high-level backfield for Justin Herbert is threatened at any time on the field.

Speaking of former Cowboys coaches, ex-running backs coach Skip Peete now holds the same position in Tampa. The Bucs are parting ways with Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White looks explosive, his performance during his rookie season left a lot to be desired. The problem for the Bucs is that they currently don’t have a quarterback — or a whole lot of cap maneuverability. It would be pretty tough to get things working to bring Pollard in, but NFL teams do tough things to land free agent goals pretty much every offseason.

LA has moved away from the zone-exclusive running scheme it used early in Sean McVay’s tenure as head coach, but those principles are still applied in many offenses, and Pollard fits them brilliantly. The Rams’ running game struggled last season when the offensive line fell apart and neither Cam Akers nor Pollard’s former Memphis teammate Darrell Henderson could get anything going. Maybe they could make a good return to the Tigers and get Pollard to juice the running game.

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