The Dallas Cowboys lost in the playoffs to the San Francisco 49ers for a second straight year, and their Pro Bowl running back suffered a serious injury in the process.
Tony Pollard broke his left leg and suffered a high ankle sprain on a tackle late in the second quarter, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday. Rapoport added that the recovery process is expected to take three months.
Pollard earned the first Pro Bowl selection of his career in 2022 and led the Cowboys' two-headed rushing attack with 1,007 yards on 193 carries -- 38 fewer carries than his running mate, Ezekiel Elliott.
Pollard is a pending free agent entering his age-26 season, ranked No. 20 on Gregg Rosenthal's top free agents of 2023. He's the elusive lightning that allows Elliott's thunder to still enjoy effectiveness, but the decision to re-sign or even franchise tag Pollard could potentially be complicated by his recovery. And if he is allowed to explore free agency, which begins on March 15, Pollard's market with other teams could also be affected or delayed by not being at full health.
Although Dallas' entire running attack was held at bay by San Francisco during Sunday's 19-12 loss, Pollard was pacing the team with 22 rushing yards when he departed the game. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw his second interception of the night the very next play, and Dallas handed the ball off to a running back just six times in the aftermath of Pollard's exit.
Pollard's breakout campaign this year coincided with Elliott failing to eclipse 100 rushing yards in a single game. The elder RB hasn't had a 100-yard day on the ground since Week 5, 2021, which renders Dallas' backfield situation especially cloudy in the aftermath of Pollard's injury.
After contributing 9 yards on four carries in the first half on Sunday, Elliott only mustered another 17 yards on six attempts as the feature back in the second half. He finished with 26 yards (2.6 yards per carry), just four more than Pollard total, and he looked to be plodding throughout the game as he has most the season.
Meanwhile, Elliott, who will be 28 at the start of next season, is the league's third-most expensive running back under contract, per Over the Cap, but enters 2023 with zero guaranteed money and only $11.8 million in dead money if he's released.
The Cowboys' already unenviable balancing act regarding how to keep one or both running backs on the roster moving forward is now even more difficult.
After the defeat Sunday, Dallas' offseason officially begins -- and so do the big questions.