Imagine rushing for 131 yards and three touchdowns to help lead your team to a 49-29 victory over the Chicago Bears only to have your owner and general manager praise the player ahead of you on the depth chart who didn’t even suit up for the game. That’s exactly what happened to Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard on Sunday.
Following the Cowboys’ victory over the Bears in Week Eight, Dallas owner and de facto GM Jerry Jones was asked about the performance of Pollard, who replaced starting running back Ezekiel Elliott who was sidelined due to a knee injury. And instead of praising Pollard’s outstanding performance, Jones instead spoke about the importance of Elliott to the Cowboys’ offense.
“Well, of course, we go as Zeke goes. I really mean that. Zeke’s that important to this team. Everybody’s important as he was before the game … I want all our fans to feel good about our future cause we’ll have a healthier Zeke for not using him this ball game.”Jerry Jones speaking to the media following Sunday’s game
Jones than addressed Pollard’s stellar performance after he was able to score three times on only 14 carries averaging a ridiculous 9.36 yards per rushing attempt.
“Of course with Pollard, I knew we were going to be conservative with him early because we wanted him for the end of the game to be the center point of the run game and, if you will, even the offense. But boy, he stepped up there and had more carries by the half than I thought we were going to give him.”
Jones would go on to say that Pollard played to expectation. Wow, what praise. This from the billionaire salesman who has consistently sold the hope of winning as the owner of America’s Team to a massive fanbase for decades despite not appearing in a Super Bowl since 1995. His lack of enthusiasm for Pollard’s career performance was palpable during the below interview.
When Jones was later asked about a possible running back controversy in Dallas that would have Pollard starting over Elliott, the longtime Cowboys’ owner was quick to shoot that idea down.
“No. No. There’s no argument. Zeke’s ability to punish. Zeke’s ability to deliver it. Zeke’s ability for what he does in pass protection. And, frankly, Zeke’s ability to make big plays are there. We’re going to go as Zeke goes. I really mean he’s that integral to our success this year.”Jerry Jones per Jon Machota via Twitter
For reference, Pollard now leads the Cowboys with 506 rushing yards despite getting 28 less carries than Elliott. Tony also has one more touchdown than Zeke and six more receptions. Pollard has a per carry average of 6.9, while Elliott’s at 4.1 ypc. By every metric, Pollard is superior. Although Elliott is admittedly still better at pass protection.
This response from Jones was a stark difference from only a few weeks ago when he was asked the same question about a quarterback controversy between injured starter Dak Prescott and his backup, Cooper Rush. Here’s what Jones told reporters in September when asked if he’d want a quarterback controversy in Dallas.
“Of course I would. Of course, that means we’ve won. Comes in here and plays as well as Prescott played? Rush? Played that well over these next games ahead. I’d walk [to] New York to get that.”Jerry Jones responding to press in September
So, why the vast discrepancy between Jones and his desire for a quarterback controversy and his swift adverse reaction when asked about the prospect of Pollard starting at running back? Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk believes it could all come down to Elliott’s massive contract.
“The reality is, Jones will never admit that Pollard is more than capable of handling the running back job in Dallas, because if Jones admitted that he would be admitting that the enormous contract he gave to Elliott was a mistake. The Cowboys have made Elliott the highest-paid running back in the NFL, at the expense of using all that salary cap space elsewhere, and so Jones will continue to insist that the Cowboys’ offense goes where Elliott goes. Even on a day when the Cowboys’ offense went very far without Elliott.”via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk
Regardless of his reasoning, Jerry Jones is doing himself and the Dallas Cowboys no favors when it comes to possibly re-signing Tony Pollard next offseason as the fourth-year running back is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 2023. Or perhaps by tempering any praise for Pollard on his big day Jones is hoping to reduce expectations by the player for a starter-level contract extension come March. The NFL is truly a strange business after all.