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Why the cost of extending Ezekiel Elliott isn’t as expensive as you might think

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The Cowboys have one of the best running backs in the league so let’s keep it that way.

NFL: Pro Bowl Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of different schools of thought when it comes to what the Dallas Cowboys should do with Ezekiel Elliott in terms of his future with the team. For some people, they aren’t interested in spending a lot of cap resources on a position that has been so easily maintained by far less expensive means. For others, the concern of overpaying for a worn down asset has fans tapping the brakes on a potential long-term deal. Subsequently, people have offered up their own ideas as to how to go about Elliott and his contract, and three different scenarios have emerged as the most popular. Let’s examine each of these scenarios and see which one makes the most sense for the Cowboys.

Scenario #1 - Let him walk after his rookie deal is done (Two years)

If you don’t like money being thrown at the running back position, this is the situation for you. It’s safe to say that you were heavily against selecting him fourth overall in 2016 and the sooner the team can get out of this commitment, the better. The Cowboys can still get two more years out of him as he finishes the fourth year of his rookie deal as well as the fifth-year option the team exercised in April.

The downside of this is that the team needs to have a viable replacement ready when Elliott walks. While most feel running backs are pretty interchangeable, let’s not kid ourselves with the idea that whomever takes his place is going to be a downgrade. That’s not to say they’ll be terrible, but players like Zeke don’t grow on trees. The team still has two years to seek out quality talent at the running back position, but considering how much this offense depends on a stout running game - it’s important they are successful in their search.

Scenario #2 - Tag him twice and run him into the ground (Four years)

If the Cowboys choose the first scenario, but then decide they still want him around a little longer, they can just transition into scenario two without missing a beat. If Elliott adds more rushing titles to his résumé and is the catalyst behind greater success for this football team, the Cowboys aren’t going to be letting him go. When his contract is up after the next two seasons, the Cowboys front office simply can slap the franchise tag on him. The franchise tag price for a running back is currently set at $11.2 million; however, if we adjust this price based on the typical salary cap increase of six percent annually, the cost to tag a running back in the year 2021 should be around $12.6 million. If Elliott is still one of the best players in the league after that, the team always has a fallback option to tag him a second time. This would run the team roughly $15.1 million for the year 2022.

This method gives the Cowboys four more years of Elliott, which squeezes out the greatness of his prime years. Elliott will only be 27 years old in 2022, so there should be plenty left in the tank in this scenario.

This approach does come with trade-offs. For starters, Elliott’s camp aren’t dummies and they’re not likely to just let the Cowboys conveniently exploit his services without proper compensation. This could very easily turn into a holdout situation. Players have every right to protect themselves against injury and could choose to sit out until a long-term deal is reached. After playing under the tag once in 2017, Le’Veon Bell said no thanks to a second tag and sat out the entire 2018 season. It cost him $14.5 million last year, but he now is guaranteed $27 million with a chance to earn a total of $52.5 million over the next four years. If the Cowboys choose to go this route, expect discord between these two sides down the stretch.

Another problem that could surface is the possibility that the team doesn’t want to move on from Elliott. What happens if the offense performs the way we are hoping it does and Elliott’s leading the charge? Signing him to a long-term deal will be a lot more expensive and the Cowboys may not have the cap freedom to pull it off. Not only that, but then Elliott’s contract would extend into his 30’s where the chances of him slowing down are more likely.

This type of scenario is riddled with indecisiveness and doesn’t contain a very favorable outlook. The team should be able to decide if they want to commit to him or not. If they don’t, take scenario #1 and call it good. If they do, the winning ticket may be...

Scenario #3 - Extend him now (Six total years)

If Elliott is the ember that makes this fire burn, then what are they waiting for? Using Todd Gurley’s contract extension from last year as a baseline, and giving it the six percent annual increase - the team can extend Zeke somewhere in the range of four years for $61 million. This puts him at $15.2 annually, making him the highest paid running back in the league. Based on those figures alone, that’s a pricey investment, but that’s actually his 2021-2024 annual cost. When you tally up his total six-year price, it drops to an average cost of $13 million.

The great thing about this scenario is Elliott’s locked down for the next six years and the team will get his best years out of him before he hits the age of 30. And by the time Alvin Kamara or Saquon Barkley get their new deals, Zeke’s contract will be a good value.

If that still seems a bit too rich for your blood, here is a side-by-side breakdown of each scenario.

Keep in mind, if his contract is structured anything like Todd Gurley’s, the team will have a potential out in 2023 with a minimal dead money hit. That means the Cowboys get Zeke until he’s 27 with an option of two more years at what then will be a good price for a top running back.

Poll

Which scenario do you prefer?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Scenario #1 - Let him walk after his final two years at $8.4 M
    (95 votes)
  • 10%
    Scenario #2 - Tag him twice for a total of four years at $11.2 M
    (161 votes)
  • 84%
    Scenario #3 - Give him a four-year extension for a total of six years at $13.0 M
    (1350 votes)
1606 votes total Vote Now