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Cowboys news: How to handle the Ezekiel Elliott situation?

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Divisional Round - Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Breaking down the “Zeke decision,” which will determine Cowboys’ direction for years to come – Bob Sturm, The Athletic
There’s been much speculation surrounding how the Cowboys should approach Ezekiel Elliott. The Sturminator weighs in with his thoughts.

These days, you don’t have to go far to find experts who will use terms like “negligence” when a team asks a running back to take a beating over 300 carries. The single-back approach seemed completely extinct a decade ago but has found a resurgence with Gurley, Elliott, Saquon Barkley and holdover Adrian Peterson. Still, only Elliott turned in a 300-carry season last year. There have only been six 300-carry seasons since 2014, and the Cowboys have half of them between Murray in 2014 and Elliott in 2016 and 2018. There is little doubt that Elliott would have hit that mark easily in 2017, as well, were it not for his suspension. This is consistent with the way they used Murray in 2014, but not very smart if you want Elliott to follow Emmitt Smith through a second and third contract into his early 30s.

But what if that’s not the plan at all? Are the Cowboys running Elliott into the ground because they have no plans to extend him? Was their plan all along – to draft him, use him early and often, get five years of hard usage from 2016 through 2020, tack on a bonus year with the franchise tag in 2021, then rinse and repeat when you need another version in 2022?

If it truly is their plan, they would be wise to never suggest anything of the sort publicly. They would be wise to say all the right things, compliment the player, keep the peace and hopefully keep the train going down the tracks. If a player knows he is purposely being used recklessly, with the intention of never paying him “the going rate” extension, no matter what, he will very likely try to protect his body with a holdout. And, honestly, how can anyone blame these players? If they are being treated as a disposable commodity in a huddle that has others who “will be taken care of” when the time comes, I imagine this is where the ill feelings start for Bell, Gordon or literally any running back of elite quality.

Forecasting the next three NFL seasons - 25 predictions through 2022 - Dan Graziano, ESPN.com
A look into the crystal ball sees that the Cowboys and All Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott are headed to a contractual showdown.

Ezekiel Elliott will hold out of training camp over his contract

I don’t think it’ll be this year, though I can’t completely rule it out. But unless Elliott and the Cowboys come to agreement on a new deal this offseason or next -- which I don’t think happens unless he cuts the team some kind of deal he doesn’t seem inclined to cut -- it’s not hard to imagine Elliott taking a Melvin Gordon-level stance next August.

He’s the most important player on a Dallas team I predicted in last year’s column would win one of the next three Super Bowls, but running backs are always fighting uphill in contact situations. It doesn’t help that six of the 10 highest-paid backs in the league missed time last season due to injury.

NFL’s lack of head-coach diversity, second-year coaches on expectations - Robert Klemko, SI.com
Cowboys’ fans should keep an eye on the dance between the Chargers’ front office and star running back Melvin Gordon; it could prove illustrative of how the Cowboys’ deal with Elliott.

Reps for Chargers RB Melvin Gordon say he’s holding out for a contract extension, and if he doesn’t get it, he wants to be traded. I get it. Gordon’s been a top-five back for three seasons—only Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott and Rams’ Todd Gurley have more yards from scrimmage in the last four seasons than the 26-year-old former first-rounder—and Gordon’s been hinting at this for a while. When an SI film crew and I spent a game day with Gordon last season, his dad asked him if he thought Le’Veon Bell would hold out for an entire season.

“Yes, sir,” Melvin said. “And I would too. Come back and get hurt—why? Gave up everything he had for five, six years, and y’all can’t pay the man?”

An analytical deep dive into what the Cowboys have in QB Dak Prescott – Sheil Kapadia, The Athletic
From the “know your enemy” department, The Athletic’s lead Eagles writer breaks down the play of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

We won’t know what changes Moore plans to bring to the offense until the games start, but if the Cowboys want to continue to play the way they’ve been playing, Prescott is a fine fit. He can complete a high percentage of his passes in the intermediate part of the field, help the Cowboys string together methodical drives, and he won’t kill them with turnovers. The offense ranked 10th in efficiency in 2017 and third in 2016.

But the divisional-round loss to the Rams last season was instructive. Wade Phillips dared the Cowboys to put the game on Prescott’s shoulders by loading the box and staying in base defense against 11 personnel. Dallas decided rather than adjust to a more pass-heavy attack, it would stay true to its identity. Ezekiel Elliott ran 20 times for 47 yards (2.4 YPC), they got behind early and ended up losing 30-22.

Going forward, will the Cowboys maintain the same philosophy and ask Prescott to execute the offense and avoid mistakes? If they pay him $30 million per year, will that be an indication they believe he can do more? That they will encourage him to be more aggressive so the offense can succeed in different forms rather than just have to play one style?

Those are the questions that the franchise has to answer in the months ahead.

Who Is Facing A Make Or Break Season? - Staff, DallasCowboys.com
The staff over at the mothership give us their thoughts on the Cowboys’ players who need to step up of face the consequences.

David Helman: At the behest of my esteemed colleagues, I’ll tackle the obvious predicament facing Taco Charlton. The Cowboys’ success in the first round of the draft makes Charlton stand out like a sore thumb. Injuries have been a part of it, but the bottom line is that we just haven’t seen Charlton excel like other first-round picks in recent memory – Zack Martin, Zeke Elliott and Leighton Vander Esch, to name a few. Heading into his third NFL season, he has just 46 tackles and four sacks to his name. He also doesn’t figure to be a starter in 2019, which isn’t ideal for a first-round pick. Suffice to say that if the light is going to come on, it needs to happen soon. Being a first-round draft pick buys you a certain amount of job security – but only to a point. On a line with this much talent, it becomes difficult to hold on to a guy simply because you made a big investment in him. It doesn’t feel like a stretch to say this season, and maybe even this training camp, could determine his future with the Cowboys.

Cowboys position preview: A year removed from cutting Dan Bailey, will Dallas' confidence in Brett Maher grow? - Kate Hairopoulos, SportsDay
The good folks at SportsDay have been breaking down each position group and what they’re looking for at training camp. The latest installment looks at special teams.

Maher will try to deepen the Cowboys' confidence in him in his second season. The other regulars, punter Chris Jones and long snapper L.P. Ladouceur, are back. Jones and the Cowboys tied for 18th in the league at 44.5 yards per punt in 2018. Ladouceur, 38, is back for his 15th season.

What fans need to know about the NFL's new pass interference replay rules - Joseph Hoyt, SportsDay
The NFL’s decision to make pass interference reviewable is certainly going to result in some delays and, very likely, in some head-scratching results. But the rule itself hasn’t changed.

It's a major change for the game, but the rule remains the same. It won't change how officials call pass interference on the field.

"We'll still do what we've always done, which is try and get every play right," said referee Ron Torbert. "We now have one more item that's on the list of things that are reviewable to help us do that."

What officials call on the field, however, will still dictate what happens in the review process. When reviewing plays, Riveron and other designated members of the officiating department look for "clear and obvious" factors. Replay was created to fix egregious errors, but not every decision fits the clear and obvious standard. There's a gray area, and that often leads to the review siding with the call on the field. Since 1999, 37% of reviewed plays overturned the original call, according to the NFL.

Now add in pass interference, a subjective call, and there's even more gray area.

Trysten Hill may be crowning point on Cowboys star-studded defense - C.C. Boorman, CowboysWire.com
Can Trysten Hill finally solve the Cowboys’ long-standing interior defensive line woes?

The defensive tackle position is amply fortified with veterans like Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford and Antwaun Woods, but do not expect the Cowboys to take it slowly with a player they have invested significant sweat equity into. As analyst Bryan Broaddus noted on the Cowboys’ official site, it is anticipated Hill will be injected into the mixture right away to see what he can do.

It is quite likely Hill’s career arc as a Cowboy could have been foreshadowed by how Marinelli molded Henry Melton after the Bears picked him up in the fourth round in the 2009 draft. After a rookie season in which he rotated into all sixteen games with 2.5 sacks, Melton had a career-high seven sacks in 2011 and by 2012, he was a Pro Bowler.

The expectations could not be higher for a player that is being asked to become to be a “perfect fit” per Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams. And that assumption has begun to spread.

In a recent article, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein listed his top eight candidates to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award for the 2019 NFL season. Hill was pegged as the lone dark-horse candidate, the only player in the group who was not selected in the draft’s first round.

Pressure by Number of Pass Rushers, 2018 - Scott Spratt, Football Outsiders
The analytics crew at Football Outsiders breaks down pressure from 3, 4 and more than 4-man fronts. Noteworthy is the fact the Cowboys rushed 4 lineman at a very high rate, but were ineffective (based upon DVOA). Alternatively, the Cowboys didn’t blitz very often, but were very effective. Things to ponder.

Quarterback pressure splits show how important it is for defenses to generate pressure, but that calculus can change depending on the resources it takes for teams to do so. Four- and especially two- and three-man fronts that disrupt a quarterback enjoy the best of both worlds, forcing mistakes and leaving plenty of players in coverage to take advantage of them. Blitzing teams improve their odds of a big play but also improve the odds that a big play will be made against them, and so a blitz can be either a good or bad strategy depending on factors like the game situation and offensive and defensive personnel. To make sense of those vagaries, we can compare teams' reliance on and effectiveness with different numbers of pass-rushers.

The Three Most Fascinating Implications of the NFL’s Best Horrible Proposal Yet - Rodger Sherman, The Ringer
Some of you may have heard about the NFL’s ill-advised “plan” to play an 18-game schedule with players limited to 16 games. The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman sums up the insanity.

This is an objectively terrible idea. There is no justification for it other than enabling owners to enrich themselves by diluting their product. You take 16 kilos of the pure uncut NFL, chop it up with some Bortles and Glennon, and boom! You can sell 18. The NFL wants to add games by making load management mandatory. This idea is so bad that I suspect it isn’t a serious proposal and is rather a distraction that owners will bring to the bargaining table so that their less dumb ideas will seem like compromises when they’re hashing out the new CBA with the NFL Players Association.

Regardless, NFL Twitter spent much of this weekend pointing out the proposal’s countless logical and logistical flaws. Would teams be willing to risk playing their starting quarterbacks behind backup offensive lines, or would they bench their entire first-string offensive units at once? Would teams roster multiple kickers, punters, and long snappers for the two weeks each season when they’d be obligated to play a backup? Why would the league screw over the television networks that provide most of its cash flow by leaving them with marquee games in which star players sit? Why would the NFL needlessly complicate the nature of fantasy football and gambling, two institutions that drive millions of fans to watch games every week?

Peyton Manning (Remember Him?) Quarterbacks New TV Series, Mulls Long-Term Life After Football – Peter King, ProFootballTalk
Thinking about extending Zeke with a big-money contract? The recent history of such signings should give pause.

Le’Veon Bell balked at the Steelers’ offer of $14.5 million on the franchise tag last year. James Conner wasn’t quite as productive as vintage Bell—270 touches, 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns—but he was close. And Conner, who made $754,572 last year, cost 1/19th of what Bell would have commended. No one in Pittsburgh is bemoaning the loss of Bell, though he’s a great player.

Todd Gurley is a great back too, and the Rams paid a guaranteed $45 million last year. They’ll say they aren’t regretting what they paid Gurley, but an odd and persistent knee problem last year limited him to 88 carries in the Rams’ last nine games—including a 35-yard rushing performance in the Super Bowl. The Rams picked up C.J. Anderson off the street in December, and in five games, he rushed for 488 yards.

David Johnson of the Cardinals responded to his new $13-million-a-year deal on the eve of the 2018 season by rushing for 940 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

Devonta Freeman signed with Atlanta for $22 million guaranteed in 2017. He’s missed 16 of the Falcons’ last 32 regular-season games and averaged 58 yards per game in the 16 he’s played.