The Cowboys might be starting fresh at the running back position. With Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle becoming unrestricted free agents this March, over 90 percent of the snaps at RB could be up for grabs in 2024. Such a situation would represent the biggest churn at the position since the 2016 season when Ezekiel Elliott was drafted fourth overall.
Conventional wisdom says the draft is the best way to go about solving the RB position. But given the lack of veteran presence anywhere on the roster, Dallas will very likely double-dip the position and pick up a veteran in free agency as well.
2024 isn’t seen as a particularly deep free agent class for RBs. Big names are at the top but options fade quickly deeper down the list. Factoring in performance, age, expected pay, and running style, we can take a preliminary crack at ranking the top-10 free agent RBs on the market this season and specifically determine how they would fit on the Cowboys.
It’s important to reiterate, this isn’t a clear top-10 list but rather a ranking based on fit and the financial preferences in Dallas.
Moss, 26, is a well-built runner at 5-foot-9, 223-pounds. He averaged 0.22 missed tackles per attempt in 2023 and adds steady receiving ability to the mix.
— THE REAL U (@therealutahutes) January 8, 2023
Playing against mostly light boxes (ranked No. 3 in light front carry rate) his numbers may be more skewed, but he graded as a decent all-around RB who would come very inexpensive and would upgrade a reserve role left by Dowdle.
Now is a good time to re-reference the caveat made at the beginning: This isn’t a traditional top-10 list, rather a list of how these free agents fit with the Cowboys. Jacobs is arguably the best RB in the free agent class, and as such, will demand top-of-the market prices.
The Cowboys don’t need to repeat the mistake they made with Elliott and sign another RB to a massive multiyear deal. RB is a position that can get filled easily by a rookie and that’s the route Dallas should take in their search for the next RB1.
With that said, Jacobs is a fantastic talent who would immediately upgrade the Cowboys’ running game.
Even though Barkey has two 1,300+ yard seasons on his resume, his best football might still be ahead for the second-overall pick of 2018. The 26-year-old will rival Jacobs for getting top dollar, but he comes with a ceiling that’s through the roof.
New York was dysfunctional for most of Barkley’s career but if he can find a team with a good offensive line and respectable passing game, he could be All-Pro. It would be reckless for Dallas to make this signing, but it could also give them the boost they’ve been searching for from their running game.
Singletary, 5-foot-7, 203-pounds is the smallest player to make the list. At 26-years old, he should still be playing in his athletic window and come at an affordable price. He’s rushed for over 650 yards in each all five of his NFL seasons and has contributed in at least 16 games over the last four seasons, making him a reliable piece, even if he’s rather undersized.
Singletary is a complementary back best paired with a bruiser. He averages 0.22 missed tackles per attempt and has wiggle to his game even if he doesn’t come with game-breaking speed.
Kelley isn’t on many radars, but he may offer the most bang for the buck in this free agent class. At 5-11, 212-pounds, Kelly is a moderately built runner who can do a number of things on offense. He’s only 26-years old and only has 1,148 yards of mileage on his tires, so he’s far from battle-worn.
Most importantly, his 0.48 yards over expected were the best on the Chargers and among tops in the NFL.
— NFL (@NFL) November 29, 2020
Kelley is an inexpensive option who would require a draft pick to pair with. His diverse skill set would allow the Cowboys to pick the best RB available and not force them to draft into a specific role.
A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers
Dillion at 6-foot, 247-pounds, is a between-the-tackles rusher who ran for 613 yards for 3.4 yards/attempt in 2023. He’s acceptable in pass protection and has serviceable hands in the passing game. He’s not explosive or exceptional in any one way but he’s good veteran insurance should a rookie option struggle.
Dillon doesn’t make the list because he’s a great player. He makes the list because he’s affordable, comes with a high floor, durability, and signals the Cowboys are using the draft to really answer their questions at RB which is the recommended course of action.
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
It’s hard to gauge what Pollard’s price will be coming off a disappointing year but given his low milage and age (26), he may be out of Dallas’ price range.
Even still, Pollard was noticeably slow to get up to speed in 2023 following a leg injury suffered the season before. Pollard is likely to be better in 2024 and could be a buy-low option for Dallas.
The NFL could see Pollard as part of a duo and not a stand-alone RB1. That’s going to drive down his price. Dallas doesn’t want to sign anyone to a top-10 contract so the money and longevity of the deal matter quite a bit.
Everything said about Jacobs and Barkley apply to Henry as well, the only thing is Henry is over the age of 30 and as such, unlikely to command the money or length the other two will demand. With that said, Henry still won’t be cheap and signing him would be a departure from the recommended strategy of letting the draft do most of the work.
At 6-foot-3, 247-pounds, Henry is in a league of his own in size and stature. He’s the bruiser of all bruisers and packs elite short-yardage punch. His long speed might soon be dwindling but if the Cowboys use him correctly and keep him fresh for key moments like short yardage and win preservation, he could be an EPA monster.
VINTAGE KING HENRY 👑
— NFL (@NFL) October 1, 2023
Henry is top-10 in both run stuff rate (in a good way) and breakaway run rate which is a rare combination in a RB. If the Cowboys are in win-now mode and Henry is willing to play on a two-year deal, he could prove to be the most impactful option.
At 5-foot-9, 215-pounds, Swift isn’t very big which explains some of his injury concerns over the years. The four-year veteran hits the market at a fresh 25-years-old and brings with him a track record of explosive plays. He’s not a physical runner but is shifty and can navigate through traffic.
.@DAndreSwift scores in Kansas City!
— NFL (@NFL) November 21, 2023
Swift isn’t a workhorse but he’s versatile enough to be a three-down runner with receiving ability at his disposal. He ran for 1,049 yards and totaled 18 broken tackles in 2023. His ideal fit is in a tandem alongside a between the tackles runner.
At 6-foot-1, 238-pounds, Edwards is built differently than many of the others. He’s a big body who commands respect between the tackles and up field. At 28-years-old, Edwards is nearing the dreaded 30-year mark many RBs decline, but if the money is right and the terms are short, he’d give the Cowboys something they haven’t had since Elliott left.
Edwards only ran for 810 yards in 2023 but his 13 rushing touchdowns against the second-highest stacked-front carry rate in the NFL (averaged 7.2 defenders in the box) makes him a valuable weapon.
Another one for Gus Bus 🚍
Tune in on Prime! pic.twitter.com/hPkd7Zfx3r
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 17, 2023
The draft appears to have more quick runners than bruisers in it so it would make sense for Dallas to pick up a veteran thumper in free agency. Edwards would immediately upgrade their short yardage offense serving alongside a more dynamic runner in a RB tandem.