OXNARD, Calif. — Before Wednesday’s first practice of training camp, Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard received a text from a familiar number.
It was his former teammate, Ezekiel Elliott, the man he is replacing as the Cowboys’ lead running back in 2023.
“Just telling all the running backs he knows we’ll handle business, take care of everything and just good luck,” Pollard said. “It means a lot with his situation, not being anywhere, but him still checking on us and making sure we’re all right.”
Elliott remains a free agent as training camps begin, although he has been working out the entire offseason, either with former teammates at Dak Prescott’s backyard field or his personal running backs coach, Josh Hicks.
“I know it’s frustrating for him [not being in a camp], especially with the way things are going now, but I know he’s a tough guy mentally and physically,” Pollard said, “so I’m pretty sure he’ll find a way to battle through it.”
Pollard is fully healthy as he comes back from surgery to repair a high-ankle sprain in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He will be cautiously worked in early in camp as a precaution.
“Right now I’m feeling pretty good, feeling pretty healthy,” Pollard said. “Just being smart with the trainers, not trying to push it too much. Just trying to ease back into things and go from there.”
Pollard had to contend with his own contract issue with the Cowboys placing the franchise tag on him, which he signed in March. While the Cowboys made a multiyear offer to him, the sides could not bridge the gap before the July 17 deadline.
After making $3.65 million in his first four years, Pollard will make $10.091 million on the tag this season.
“I mean everybody wants to get a deal done, but it was a progress for me,” Pollard said. “So that’s how I’m looking at it right now and just trying to be positive about things.”
Pollard did not take part in the weekend videoconference that featured some of the NFL’s top backs in hopes of finding a way to increase their value when it comes to long-term contracts.
“I mean, honestly, I can’t speak for everybody, [but] the situation is what it is,” Pollard said. “You get tagged, you can’t work out a deal out in time, then it’s no point in just keep bringing it up. At this point I’m here where my feet are. I’m at camp. So I’m ready to go.”
So how valuable are running backs?
“It’s very valuable,” he said. “You know just what we bring to the game, being able to run the ball, pound the ball, catch out of the backfield, being able to block, so it’s a combination of a lot of different positions in one.”
Elliott famously held out of training camp and the preseason in 2019 looking for a contract extension. He eventually signed a five-year, $90 million deal that included $50 million in guaranteed money, but his production dropped from 2020 to ’22 in part because of injuries.
Last year, Pollard ran for 1,007 yards on 193 carries while catching 39 passes for 371 yards. He had 12 touchdowns. Now this summer, Pollard is leading the running back drills the way Elliott used to lead them.
“It’s definitely different, not having him out here with all the energy that he brings,” Pollard said. “It kind of reminds me of my rookie year, the holdout, when I was pretty much here the whole camp. Just trying to get used to it.”