This is the most important season of Ezekiel Elliott’s career.
Tomorrow night when the Cowboys visit the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to kick off the 2021 NFL season, there won’t be a player on the field that has more to prove than Elliott.
The Cowboys have always relied on Elliott to be a focal point of their offense. They’ve always been better when they can establish the running game and allow Dak Prescott to work off play-action and better manage downs and distances.
While Prescott had an outstanding start to the 2020 season before having a gruesome ankle injury, the importance of Elliott to Dallas’ success could be more crucial than ever this season. We still don’t know if Prescott will be completely himself in-game action just yet, which could mean that the play-calling will lean a lot more on the run game — especially early in the season.
This will be an outstanding opportunity for Elliott, who will need to bounce back from rushing for just 65 yards per game in 2020. Elliott is still one of the most talented backs in the league, but he hasn’t rushed for more than 1,400 yards in a season since 2018. That was also the last year he rushed for more than 90 yards a game.
The truth is that the 26-year-old has been on a slight decline in recent years. And with the shelf life of NFL running backs getting shorter and shorter, the optics won’t look good for Elliott if he has another underwhelming season.
Thankfully for Elliott, he did ink a six-year, $90 million contract extension with $50 million guaranteed in 2019, and the earliest that the Cowboys could move on him from would be in 2023. At that point, it would cost Jerry Jones about $12 million in dead money. But obviously, no one in Dallas wants to get to that point where they have to think about moving on from Elliott so soon.
That’s why this season will be important for the standout running back, the Cowboys need him to get back to his old self and if he does the team in Dallas will be in good shape. If he doesn’t it could spell trouble, not just for the Cowboys, but the rest of Elliott’s career.