Bob Sturm of The Athletic explains in a recent piece that scouts are whispering that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is done — without actually saying it. “He has very little left in his legs, and the word is out.” So, in other words, scouts are noticing what most of the football world has known for at least the past couple of years.
Zeke is now a short-yardage “specialist”
At one time, Elliott was a workhorse running back carrying the ball 20 plus times per game and was reduced to nothing more than a short-yardage “specialist” during the 2022 campaign. Elliott was hampered by injuries this season which forced him to miss two games and gain just 876 yards on the ground and 3.8 yards per carry. Both were the lowest of his seven-year NFL career.
Quite frankly, Zeke is a backup running back making big-time starter money. That’s the only way to view it now. There’s no question that Tony Pollard is the man in Dallas’ backfield, and Elliott is bringing up the rear. While Elliott did touch the endzone 12 times in ‘22, all those touchdowns came in the red zone. Many from within the five-yard line. It’s great that Elliott has accepted his new role in the Cowboys’ offense, but employing a $90 million back to play on short yardage downs and block in the passing game isn’t sustainable.
Zeke is scheduled to make just under $11 million in base salary for 2023, but is apparently willing to take a pay cut if that means he can stay in Dallas. I can’t entirely agree with players offering up pay cuts, but when they do, management would be foolish not to take them up on the offer. NFL players should get every penny they can, but Elliott’s value has tanked so much that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are the only franchise that covets the former All-Pro ball carrier. Even if Zeke takes the pay cut in Dallas, he’s likely to make more than he would anywhere else in the league.
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Running on E-mpty
This day has been a long time coming. You could see some slippage with Elliott going back as far as 2020. Less explosiveness and lack of wiggles had begun to become apparent. Elliott had a bit of a bounce back in ‘21, hitting the 1,000-yard threshold, although it took him all 17 games to go over the mark by two yards. Paying a running back over $10 million a year to rush for 1,002 or fewer yards, which Elliott accomplished the past three years, is absurd in today’s NFL.
Any other team would cut its losses and move on from Elliott. But Jones can be loyal to a fault with some players, and sometimes it impedes their progress. We’re constantly hearing about how much Jones wants to win again. But his actions don’t always match that energy. They’ve held onto Zeke for too long, traded away Amari Cooper, and can’t ever figure out a way to sign star free agents (Von Miller) who want to play in Dallas.
Other teams figure ways around the salary cap, but Jones acts like he can’t do the same. Elliott has been done as a premier back for at least three years now, and it’s time to move on. If there is a way to work out something with his contract that frees up cap space for Dallas, that’s what needs to happen. But we’ve known for some time that Elliott is no longer that grind it out go to back in big-game situations. If the Cowboys believe Pollard is their main guy now, they need to roll with it and find a way out of paying Elliott so much toward the cap.