I’m not going to speculate about whether it’s lingering injury issues or something else, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.
Tony Pollard is playing terrible football, and he’s not the answer at running back if Dallas is serious about making a playoff push. He’s averaged fewer than 4 yards per carry in three of his last four games.
Rushing and receiving combined, he’s had 75 opportunities (59 carries and 16 targets) over those four games, tallying just a total of 279 yards. That’s just 3.77 yards per opportunity. That won’t cut it.
But luckily for the Cowboys, running back tends to be a position pretty flush with free agent talent, especially with some backs hoping to land with a contender for a playoff push.
With that in mind, here’s a look at who Dallas can sign to give this offense a boost down the stretch.
1. Duke Johnson
The Cowboys don't necessarily need some plodder who's going to bang between the tackles.
Is there a lack of a strong, hard-nosed short-yardage back in Dallas? Sure. But that's not the offensive identity we want, and this team needs a running back who is a legitimate threat to contribute as a receiver. Enter Duke Johnson.
Johnson didn’t get much run in 2022 with the Buffalo Bills, but he’s a proven dual threat and he’s only just turned 30 years old. He’s been around a long time but he’s not old, and it’s not like he has a ton of miles on his body either. Plus we wouldn’t be asking him to handle a 250-touch season, just a stretch of a few games to close out the year.
Johnson had a brutal year in 2020 (3.1 yards per carry), but excluding 2022 (when he had just 2 rush attempts) he topped 4.5 yards per rush in the other three of his last four seasons. He’s also averaged a combined 7.1 yards per target as a receiver for his career, never falling below 6.5 in a single year.
Tony Pollard is averaging 4.05 yards per rush and a brutal 4.76 yards per target for the 2023 season. And he’s doing it in a better offense than Johnson ever had the pleasure of playing in.
2. Tevin Coleman
Like Johnson, Tevin Coleman's slowed down in recent years. He's still capable of contributing in all areas though.
He barely got any run in 2022 with the San Francisco 49ers, but he topped 4 yards per carry on the ground in an awful New York Jets offense in 2021, and in 2020 Pro Football Focus gave him an outstanding receiving grade of 83.8.
Is Coleman the same player he was in his prime? Of course not.
But we haven't really seen much evidence of him being over the hill. He hasn't had many opportunities, and those he has had have come in poor offenses.
That's very different from what you can expect to see from him running behind this Dallas offensive line and catching passes as an outlet valve while defenses sell out to try stopping CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks down the field.
Moreso than Johnson, Coleman can also bang around between the tackles when needed in short-yardage. He's not a powerhouse in that area, but it's kind of similar to what we get from Pollard. He can do it well enough that you don't need to add another bruiser to the roster specifically to fill the role.
As an added bonus, maybe Coleman can give us some inside insights on the 49ers' offense for a potential postseason rematch.
3. Mark Ingram
Okay, here's the "let's not actually fully replace Pollard" option, because I'll admit I might be a little hasty when I say he needs replacing.
The Cowboys won't fully bench Pollard, and he should still be able to contribute something to this offense. But he needs some support in the backfield, and apparently it's more support than Rico Dowdle can provide.
Mark Ingram has some serious miles on him at this point, but he’s handled north of 75 touches every year since he came into the league in 2011, including his age-33 season in 2022.
He's not going to give you breakway speed. He won't hit any home runs. But he'll be a rock-solid point of consistency. He's a savvy vet who will get every yard the line blocks for him, plus an extra 1 or 2 at the end of the run when he lowers his shoulder.
He'd also slot in as the short-yardage back immediately, which would not only help when we're trying to pound forward for a yard or two, but would open up the play-action game in those situations since defenses would have to respect his power more than they do for Pollard.
In other Cowboys news: