The NFL is in the middle of a massive controversy surrounding players kneeling during the National Anthem. The issue has led to debate about whether or not these athletes should be allowed to protest on their own terms, and what the consequences are for those who don’t stand for the anthem.

The Dallas Cowboys have a dilemma on their hands. The squad is now sharing carries between two running backs. That isn’t an issue in and of itself. When one back is much less effective than the other, though, it becomes a problem. When an unproductive running back is a high-paid former first-round draft choice, it can become a nuisance, which is where the Cowboys’ RBs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are right now. 

Running backs with a wide range of pedigrees and pay packages 

Ezekiel Elliott is a well-known actor. In three seasons at Ohio State in the Big Ten, he ran for 3961 yards and 43 touchdowns. Since Jerry and Stephen Jones selected him No. 4 overall in 2016, he’s been a standout on America’s Team. In his NFL career, the running back has 8,477 yards from scrimmage and 57 touchdowns. 

Tony Pollard isn’t a household name. He had a solid four-year career at Memphis in the American Conference, accumulating 2,233 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns while playing both wide receiver and running back. He’s also backed up the Cowboys’ top running back for the last two seasons after the Joneses selected him in the fourth round at No. 128 overall in 2019. Pollard has 1,373 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in the NFL.

Elliott is compensated similarly to a celebrity, while Pollard is not.

The former Ohio State Buckeye is in the third year of a six-year, $90 million contract that pays him $15 million each season on average. The former Tiger is in the third year of his four-year, $3.1 million rookie deal, which pays him $796,945 each season on average.

This is standard procedure for an NFL club. A star is compensated more because they are given the ball and create more. It’s how the NFL — and, indeed, all sports — operate.

When the “not a star” player begins to outperform the star player, though, a team has a dilemma. The Dallas Cowboys, on the other hand, have a problem.

Elliott is aware of the noise, but he seems unconcerned.

“For three reasons, Ezekiel Elliott is now playing more than Tony Pollard: his contract, his celebrity, and his contract.” When Tony Pollard is on the field, according to @KyleBrandt, the Cowboys offense is “fresher, quicker, and bolder.” pic.twitter.com/Nvob2MTUNe

22 September 2021, GMFB (@gmfb)

As Tony Pollard continues to outshine Ezekiel Elliott, demands for the understudy to be given more stage time are becoming louder.

Elliott had 244 carries for 979 yards and six touchdowns in 2020, a career low 4.0 yards per run. Pollard rushed for 435 yards and four touchdowns on 101 attempts (4.3 yards per carry).

In a Week 1 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Elliott had 11 carries for 33 yards. Pollard only carried the rock three times for a total of 14 yards. In Week 2, Pollards had 13 carries to Elliott’s 16, while the latter gained 109 yards to the former’s 79.

There are a slew of additional statistics that support the same conclusion. Pollard is exceeding Elliott and deserving of greater playing time. The movement to give Pollard more touches is gaining traction, but Elliott claims it isn’t affecting him.

“For those who attempt to connect the magnitude of your deal to the number of carries you’re getting, do you hear that stuff?” a reporter questioned the starting back during a mid-week news conference, courtesy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Is it bothering you at all?”

Elliott’s response was:

You hear it, but what counts most is what’s going on within this structure. They aren’t the ones who sign the cheques, after all. I don’t believe it matters since they aren’t the ones sending the wires.

On detractors, Ezekiel Elliott said

While it seems like a positive mindset to have, it will be interesting to watch how the star responds if he ever has to take a backseat to Pollard, which is unlikely.

Will Mike McCarthy, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, bench their top running back?

Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys and Kyzir White of the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on September 19, 2021; Los Angeles Chargers free safety Derwin James leaps to try and catch Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard from behind at SoFi Stadium on September 19, 2021.

Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys and Kyzir White of the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on September 19, 2021; Los Angeles Chargers free safety Derwin James leaps to try and catch Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard from behind at SoFi Stadium on September 19, 2021. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard (L-R) | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images; Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Image

Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott dropped back and threw 58 times in Week 1’s defeat. He only threw in 27 times in the Week 2 victory.

A more balanced approach is better for the Cowboys, as it is for most NFL teams. Dallas’ issue is that they have an injury-plagued defense (that wasn’t all that terrific to begin with), which makes shootout games more likely.

Elliott will continue to take the bulk of snaps over Tony Pollard in games when the ‘Boys must drop back and throw a lot. While he isn’t a better pass-catcher than Pollard, who was a receiver in college, he is one of the league’s greatest pass-blocking backs.

The most important part of the offensive for Dallas is to protect its star quarterback, who is coming back from a horrific 2020 injury, which is why Elliott will continue to get a lot of field time regardless of performance.

If McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore can find a better balance, they’ll have to go with Pollard, who is the more productive back.

For the time being, the Joneses will continue to sign Elliott’s cheques and transmit those wires. However, the club has a contract that expires in 2022, thus the star’s time as a Dallas Cowboy may be limited.

Pro Football Reference provided all data, while Spotrac provided contract statistics.

Terry Bradshaw (Related) Mike McCarthy was summoned, and the Dallas Cowboys coach listened: ‘You’re Gonna Kill Prescott.’

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