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What it would take for the Dallas Cowboys to move on from Ezekiel Elliott

Nothing is guaranteed, even when it comes to their All-Pro running back.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Sign him or let him walk? That’s been the name of the game played by many Dallas Cowboys fans as we try to figure out what the team is going to do with their young star players. Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are close to the end of their rookie deal and Ezekiel Elliott is not far behind; people have been weighing their options when it comes to who gets a second contract and who they walk away from. More than likely, all three will receive extensions, but as we’ve seen before - nothing is guaranteed. And if a player gets left out in the cold, the most popular candidate is typically Zeke.

When it comes to Elliott and the financial commitment the team would have to make, we’ve looked at this from many angles. We’ve examined three different approaches the Cowboys could take when it comes to the running back position. We also looked at how the cost of extending him isn’t as expensive as some think, especially for those considering the franchise tag to milk a couple extra years from him. Could life without Zeke really be in the cards for the Cowboys? David Helman from the Mothership decided to hypothesize this possibility, and he even provided an alternative plan should that happen.

Now, we understand that the Cowboys used their fourth overall pick in 2016 to select Elliott. It’s also pretty evident that he’s been one of the most talented backs in the NFL since entering the league. From a performance standpoint, he’s been everything the team has hoped for and more, so it may come across as illogical for the team to suddenly decide to move away from him. But the Cowboys organization is an ever-changing group that isn’t afraid to make big moves. It may seem highly unlikely, but it’s not utterly impossible for the team to go in another direction, and for the sake of this article we wanted to ponder what exactly it would take for the team to let Elliott walk after his rookie deal expires.

Production is found elsewhere

Prior to April’s draft, the team had three running backs in for pre-draft visits - Damien Harris, Tony Pollard, and Mike Weber. Based on these players, it was clear the Cowboys were looking to make a bigger investment than what they had done in the previous two years (Bo Scarbrough, seventh round/Jahad Thomas, UDFA). Ultimately, the team picked Pollard in the fourth round, but it was puzzling that Harris was on their list as he was projected to be a Day 2 pick. Would the team really have invested such a high draft pick for another running back when Zeke is their workhorse?

It’s possible the team is already thinking ahead. Or maybe they just want to always be open to collecting talent should a great value pick fall to them. As Helman suggests, the team has a couple drafts before life without Zeke would begin, and when you consider that Pollard is already on the team, what happens if another much cheaper running back proves himself very productive? Elliott is a special talent, but is a special talent absolutely necessary to help run this offense? The answer may be yes now, but what if things change over the course of the 2019 season?

Money is needed for other players

The front office made really tough decisions to move on from both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Factors such as the inability to stay healthy and no longer being able to win one-on-one played a part in the decision, but both players were still worth keeping on the roster; however, not for their price. The Cowboys saved a bundle by ripping off the band aid and cutting those guys loose. In one case, they had a viable replacement. In the other, they didn’t. But the team makes those decisions because ultimately it opened the door for a lot of extra cap resources to be allocated elsewhere, and we are grateful for that now.

Elliott is extremely durable and is in the prime of his career so those same factors don’t ring true when it comes to the inherit risks the other guys had. However, one has to still wonder if investing in him gives the Cowboys the best bang for their buck. It’s going to cost the team roughly $60 million over a four-year span to extend him. Is that the correct use of their money? If they are getting good production from much cheaper options, then it might not be. Would the team be better off hanging on to some players they would otherwise have to let go?

What if Maliek Collins has a breakout year? What if Anthony Brown is just too good to part with under Kris Richard’s tutelage? What if Jaylon Smith emerges as a star player and ends up costing more? Is it possible the team would be better served to use those funds to keep their young defensive pieces in place? These are certainly things the organization must consider.

The team has trust issues with him

If the team is going to invest a lot of money into a player, it sure would be nice if the team could count on them being available. And it’s fair to say, there are legitimate concerns with Elliott because of the decisions he’s made. The list continues to grow when it comes to trouble the young running back has gotten in to, and it’s still early. Most notably, he was suspended six games in 2017 for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy, but there have been several other incidents that have people concerned. As a rookie, Elliott was spotted at a marijuana dispensary when the visited Seattle back in August of 2016. He was caught on tape pulling down a woman’s shirt during a St. Patrick’s Day party in 2017. And then most recently, he was caught on tape shoving security at a music festival in Las Vegas. While Zeke will enter the 2019 season with a clean slate, what’s to say trouble doesn’t find him again? Has Elliott learned his lesson?

Last year, it looked as if he turned a corner and showed great leadership within the locker room. Despite his antics, the organization still speaks highly of him, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s one misstep away from putting his career in jeopardy. If the Cowboys are in the heat of a Super Bowl run and suddenly their $15 million per year running back becomes unavailable, that’s going to sting a bit.

As always, there are a number of things that go into making these types of situations. The right combination of things could paint a picture of a Dallas Cowboys team without Elliott on it. Quality production from other running backs combined with the growing need to pay others could be a potential road block for an extension. And if the team has reservations about Elliott’s character, it may cause them to go a different direction down the road.

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