The Dallas Cowboys have arrived in Oxnard, Ca., but Ezekiel Elliott was nowhere to be found. This isn’t a complete surprise as there has been plenty of scuttlebutt recently that suggested Elliott wouldn’t report to training camp unless he gets a new contract. The All-Pro running back did not fly with the team to California, and now that training camp is officially underway with no Zeke, the hold out has begun.
This isn’t the news we were hoping for. Expectations are high this year as this squad is loaded with talent and they should be one of the teams contending for a Super Bowl berth. Obviously, it’s important to have one of the team’s most talented players out there on the field. And even if Elliott shows up eventually, how will his absence now affect what everyone else is doing? The Cowboys have a new offensive coordinator who is supposed to shake things up with new wrinkles to help improve the offense. Isn’t it important to have all the moving parts available so the team is in sync come September?
The Cowboys are in a little bit of a pickle because Elliott’s presence is a big deal. They also have a couple other big players who need to be extended as both Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are looking for new contract. Those two guys are entering the final year of their deals so one could easily make an argument that they should take precedence over Zeke. Neither of those guys are making any noise about their contracts and have arrived in Oxnard; however, it should be noted that their situations are much different.
Prescott’s and Cooper’s value is just going to keep going up as long as they play well. And whether it’s ultimately going to be with Dallas or not (it will be), they’re going to get paid. For Zeke, the running back position is different. The demand isn’t as high as many teams can find quality options in the draft at a much cheaper cost. Sure, Elliott’s one of the very best in the league, but that doesn’t mean a big stack of cash will be waiting for him when his contract is up. Just last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers placed the franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell for the second-straight year rather than giving him a long-term deal. Bell took matters in his own hands and held out the entire 2018 season, and eventually leaving to sign with the New York Jets.
Like Bell, Elliott wants to preserve his future by agreeing to a long-term deal rather than just play on a year-by-year basis where a fluke injury could be a severe detriment to his bank account. Zeke is perfectly within his rights in protecting his interests, and he’s using the only leverage he has right now - his absence.
So how should the Cowboys organization handle this?
For Dallas, it should be business as usual, only now another running back gets to run with the first team. Elliott has struck first blood with a hold out, but this is a chess game. It’s all part of the song and dance that goes with contract negotiations and his teammates understand.
“To me, this game is a business,” center Travis Frederick said. “Everybody has to treat it as such. I hold no hard feelings to anybody that is trying to do that and get the business done and protect their family. So for me, we are out here to work. We are going to work with the guys that we have. That is not a dig at anybody. That is how it works. Guys get hurt, and you don’t have them for practice. Guys get sick, and you don’t have them for practice. And some guys aren’t here because they are working through some of the business portions. You just deal with what you have.”
Sometimes the business side takes time. Zack Martin didn’t get his extension finalized until his fifth-year in the league, despite earning All-Pro honors every year he’s been in the league. Martin chose to not participate in OTA’s last year amidst his contract dispute. There was no reason to risk injury as Martin knows first hand how easily that can happen. He was involved in a fluke injury that ended Sean Lee’s season in OTA’s of 2014 during a drill that was supposed to be non-contact.
For the Cowboys, all they can do is focus on the players who are actually at camp. That’s not to say that they should ignore Elliott’s demands completely, but wait things out a bit and see how Zeke responds to not being on the battle field with his teammates. The guy’s a competitor. It’s killing him not being out there with his brothers. If he’s able to hold out to where it’s possible he could miss the regular season, only then should the front office take matters in their own hands and get serious about getting him signed.
Ultimately, that’s the end goal. Make no mistake about it, the Cowboys need Elliott. The once pass-happy team led by Tony Romo struggled to eclipse 8-8 for three straight years only to change into a run-heavy team that has resulted in three division titles over a five year span. Run the ball.
Running the ball is important and investing in the running game is also important. The two teams that played in the last year’s Super Bowl finished top five in rushing.
And they also happen to both be in the top four when it comes to allocating cap resources towards the running back position.
Not only is running the football important for the Dallas Cowboys, it’s important to a lot of teams. The Cowboys may not have their star running back in camp right now, but getting him back on the field is an absolute must if they are to make a deep playoff run. Let’s keep the band together, shall we?
The Cowboys win 67% of their games when Dak plays. That numbers goes up to 70% when Zeke also plays. That number goes up to 75% when Amari joins them both.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) July 24, 2019
So, which one of these guys is most important?
Answer: All of them.