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John Clayton: Ezekiel Elliott Will Be Rookie Of The Year; Tony Romo Retires In 2018

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John Clayton’s three-year predictions for the Dallas Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliott as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016, and Tony Romo retiring by 2018.

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Fresh of yesterday's ESPN article that featured a brutal assessment of the Cowboys' future prospects, ESPN's John Clayton posted an article titled "30 NFL projections for the next three years," in which he offers a take on what might happen between now and the start of the 2019 season.

Topping Clayton's list are things like Drew Brees landing a contract extension that keeps him in New Orleans, Matthew Stafford becoming the league’s highest paid player by 2018, and Marvin Lewis ending his 0-7 streak as a playoff coach.

Clayton also offers two predictions about the Cowboys. First, Clayton’s 13th prediction:

As long as Tony Romo stays healthy - and Dallas Cowboys fans are praying for just that - running back Ezekiel Elliott should be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016. Because he can be a three-down player, Elliott should rush for at least 1,200 yards this season.

You can spin it any way you want, but Romo's health is a concern for the Cowboys. Romo's recent history has seen him labeled as injury-prone, but a healthy season would probably help him shed that label. Matthew Stafford, who features prominently among Clayton's predictions, was once widely panned as "injury prone" when he played in just 13 of a possible 32 games in his first two years in the league. Since then, he's played every game for the last five years and in hindsight, the injury prone label looks ridiculous. Still, Romo isn't getting any younger, so we should probably do as Clayton suggests and continue hoping for Romo to stay healthy.

On a more positive note, Clayton sees good things ahead for Ezekiel Elliott, as do many other observers who feel that pairing Elliott with the Cowboys O-line will be an exciting thing for the Cowboys.

Clayton's 21st prediction picks up where he left off on the previous one.

By 2018, the Cowboys will have to go into a rebuilding mode. Tony Romo could be retired by then. While they will still have a great offensive line for years to come, the defense won't have much talent left.

Tony Romo said earlier this offseason that he thinks he could play for at least another four or five years, but Clayton doesn't share Romo's optimism. Entering the 2018 season, Romo will be 38, and while it's certainly possible he could still be playing then, it's equally possible that he'll retire by then. And who knows, he might even get a nudge in that direction by the Cowboys, as the team could clear $16.3 million in cap space if he retires (or is released).

Clayton is also right in warning that there won't be much current talent left on defense in 2018.

Sean Lee will be 32 at the start of the 2018 season, Orlando Scandrick will be 31, Brandon Carr and Rolando McClain will be long gone by then, and even Barry Church, should he stick around, will be 30 in 2018. The Cowboys have gathered a lot of young (but mostly unproven) talent on their defensive line, but they stand to lose a lot of quality players on their defense over the next few years and don't have a lot of clarity about whether the young guys already on the roster will be able to fill the voids left by the aging veterans.

If Clayton is right with his predictions, the Cowboys will have to start shoring up their defense in the next couple of drafts, and they'll have to start planning in earnest for Romo's successor in 2018 - perhaps it's the Cowboys who'll make Matthew Stafford the highest paid player in the history of the NFL.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will become the league's highest-paid player by 2018. Stafford, a free agent in 2018, is the next starting quarterback set to get a new deal. He will be 30 years old, and the franchise-tag number will be near $25 million.