Tony Pollard vs other pending RBs, look at Cowboys 2023 free agents

When the season was just a few weeks old, the opening week of October brought our first real look at the Cowboys’ pending free agency class. Dak Prescott had missed three contests, but the Cowboys found themselves a surprising 3-1 at the time. The backup quarterback laid the foundation of a change of perspective. Just three weeks prior, pessimistic Dallas fans were preparing for the worst season in recent memory. Since that point, dreams of what the 2022 season could be have only expanded, with the club having a realistic shot of the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Almost two months later seems like a great time to check back in on the free agent class to see how their seasons have developed. Have any of the players improved their prospects of a sizable contract? Who might be less expensive to try and retain? Here’s a look at the shifts in market for the Cowboys’ pending free agency class of 2023, starting with RB Tony Pollard.

RB Tony Pollard

(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Pollard has always been considered a dangerous weapon, but in 2022 he’s ascended in production and reputation. After four weeks, the question was consistency. In Weeks 1 and 4, Pollard totaled 30 yards on 19 focuses (rushes + targets), an average of 1.58 yards. In between, he had 203 yards on 30 focuses, an average of 6.8 yards, with a score.

Since, Pollard has been the focus of a play 120 times for 773 yards and seven more scores. During that stretch, Pollard plays average 6.4 yards.

Looking at the 2023 RB landscape, there are several big-name players. The questions are whether the NFL as a whole are smarter about giving out big contracts to free agents from other teams at this position, and how much they will weigh the ability to be a bell-cow back against prior wear and tear.

Here’s a look at the other top running backs set to hit the free-agency market:

Stats Through Week 12

Running Back

Age

Carries

Targets

Total Yards

Total TDs

Yards per Focus

TDs per Focus

Tony Pollard

25

136

33

1005

8

5.95

0.05

Josh Jacobs

24

216

48

1484

9

5.62

0.03

Miles Sanders

25

177

18

960

8

4.92

0.04

David Montgomery

25

146

25

818

3

4.78

0.02

Raheem Mostert

30

118

26

662

4

4.60

0.03

Saquon Barkley

25

224

47

1215

7

4.48

0.03

Kareem Hunt

27

93

28

516

4

4.26

0.03

Jamaal Williams

27

177

12

791

13

4.19

0.07

Pollard is tops, by a healthy margin, in yards per focus. He’s second in TDs per focus. He has far less career mileage than any of these other options.

All of these things will likely mean at least one team is going to throw the bag at Pollard; he’ll be worth more to them than Dallas. The question will likely be what Pollard wants for himself.

TE Dalton Schultz

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries derailed Schultz’ start of the season, as he missed two of the first six games, had two games with zero catches and a fifth with just two for 18 yards. Since getting right, he’s returned to his 2021 pace. In Weeks 1 and 7 through 12, all games with Dak Prescott under center, Schultz has 31 catches for 292 yards and three scores. Over 17 games that’s a pace of 88 catches, 827 yards and eight or nine touchdowns.

That’s a repeat performance of his 2021 stats (78, 808, 8 TDs).

He and Prescott are simpatico, indicating what many already know that Schultz is a product of his environment and likely won’t perform at similar levels on a lesser team. But there will be good offenses looking for a tight end and Schultz will certainly have a market.

Safety Donovan Wilson

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The least heralded of Dallas’ three-safety weave, Wilson has probably been the best out of the bunch this far this season. Showing the ability to be an enforcer in the box and tackling, he’s also in the past proven to have a good first step and range in tracking the ball.

Wilson leads Dallas in solo tackles (53), is tied for fourth in QB Hits (4) and seventh in TFLs. He’s top-5 in sacks and pass deflections. Talk of a Pro Bowl appearance have cooled, but he’s playing top-notch at the position and will draw interest on the open market if Dallas lets him get there.

QB Cooper Rush

There are two factors at play here. Dallas doesn’t want to spend on a backup QB again and they likely think Will Grier will be good enough to support Dak Prescott next season. Still, Rush has been by Prescott’s side for the better part of his career.

But people aren’t going to miss the fact that, with a top offense surrounding him, Rush would seem like the perfect bridge QB for a team that plans to draft a late-first or second-round QB in April.

He will 100% be priced out of Dallas’ market come the spring, but at least that will mean a compensatory pick in 2024.

WR Noah Brown

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Brown gave the Cowboys what they needed in the first quarter of the season. With Michael Gallup not yet ready to roll or take a major role, Brown was the No. 2 receiver behind CeeDee Lamb. In Weeks 1 through 4, Brown never had under 50 yards receiving and averaged 15.2 yards per reception.

Since, he’s never had over 50 yards receiving and has averaged 11.0 yards a catch. He went from 274 yards in the first four games to 110 in the last seven, including being shut out in Thursday’s win over the Giants. His star has definitely diminished as Gallup has found his footing, but he’s shown to be a great insurance policy yet again.

Kicker Brett Maher

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Maher was a huge success story through four weeks and nothing has changed. He’s made 7 of 9 kicks from beyond 50 yards, including a 60 yarder he had to make twice to count. His only miss from less than 50 yards came last week, so that will be something to monitor with how fickle kicker confidence can be.

He’s also a touchback machine on kickoffs and if the season keeps at this pace for him, a nice kicker payday awaits in the offseason.

LB Leighton Vander Esch

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Vander Esch is getting a lot of volume and has acquitted himself well even though it has been in non-spectacular fashion. The coverage linebacker, he’s done well in that regard, but isn’t asked to make splash plays often. He is just two tackles shy (75) of his total from last season and has a sack and a forced fumble. He’ll definitely have a market but it’s not in anyway something that is going to rock a pocketbook.

LB Anthony Barr

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Even before his recent hamstring injury, Barr hasn’t been much of a standout player. He’s been solid, but he’s playing like a guy that no one broke the bank for to bring off the street until midway through training camp. Now that Damone Clark has filled in for him and provided uncanny speed (with reckless abandon, admittedly), Barr will likely be in a timeshare. That doesn’t bode well for hitting paydirt in the offseason.

DE Dante Fowler, Jr.

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Fowler has had way too many bone-headed penalties, but he’s shown that while the attention is elsewhere he can still deliver in one-on-one pass rush opportunities. He’s currently fourth on the team with five sacks on just 153 pass-rush snaps.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire