All eyes will be on the calendar as a crucial date will soon arrive in the Ezekiel Elliott holdout. August 6th will play a big role in what happens. That is Tuesday of next week, not so far off.
As has been noted, that is the date Elliott needs to be in camp to accrue a year of service. If he reports at that time, he will get his fourth year and under the CBA rules he will then be eligible for free agency once his contract runs out after his fifth-year option. That will also reserve his ability to hold out next offseason, and hold out for as long as is needed and still become a free agent after that season if no contract extension has been signed. Of course, the Cowboys still have the franchise tag in their back pocket.
But there is another school of thought, and that involves the confidence a player and his agents have that the team will eventually give in to their demands. If the goal is a new contract, and not really to hit free agency, a player might decide to go all-in and not worry about free agency. As an example, Aaron Donald did this with the Rams. He was confident enough that the Rams would relent and give him a new deal that he ran right through the deadlines for accruing service years.
Other players have held out beyond the 30-day window without concerns about losing a year of credit toward free agency. Most recently, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald held out twice beyond the 30-day deadline; as a result, he still has only three years of credit toward free agency. But he also has a contract that made him (for a day) the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.
In 2011, running back Chris Johnson held out beyond the 30-day deadline despite having more than a year left on his contract and less that four years of credit toward free agency. The year before that, cornerback Darrelle Revis did the same thing.
If a player feels like they are so important to a team that the team will eventually give in and sign them to a huge, new contract, then the concept of hitting free agency doesn’t really matter. Instead they will be locked up with their current team for years to come and they will eventually accrue the necessary years of service to hit free agency on their third contract.
It seems like the Cowboys front office is trying to disabuse Elliott’s camp that a new contract is an inevitability.
A few days ago Jerry Jones said:
“The point there is, you don’t have to have a rushing champion to win a Super Bowl ... Emmitt was the first one to do it,” Jones said.
”That’s one of the dilemmas at running back is that the league knows that you can win Super Bowls and not have the Emmitt Smith back there or not have Zeke back there,” Jones said.
Stephen Jones followed up with this gem:
”We’ve got three really good football players that we’re dealing with here and that have very good representation. And they want to see the market,” Jones said, via The Athletic. “We can’t push the issue unless we want to be a market-setter. And we’re damn sure not going to be a market-setter, because of all the things that go with being a Dallas Cowboy.”
That’s the front office basically saying they can win without Zeke and that they aren’t going to set the running back market in a new deal with him. Of course, some of that is posturing as they try to move the Elliott camp off of the holdout, but it’s still pretty strong words from the Cowboys brass.
They weren’t done. Jerry added some more:
... Jones let reporters know that while he believes a deal will eventually be reached, he’s in no mood to capitulate.
At what point in time does this holdout become problematic for both sides?
“I don’t see a point,” Jones said. “I don’t see a point months into the season. While we’ve got some sloppy rules relative to holdouts right now ... They do bite when you don’t play. I don’t have a time that I’m looking at that is a concern in my mind of, ‘Oh, my goodness.’”
That’s Jones saying he’s ready to go into the season without Zeke. Is he really? Hard to say but they are certainly doing everything they can to persuade Zeke’s camp that they are ready to do that. He wasn’t finished. While the above statement hints at the money Zeke will lose if the holdout continues for a long period of time, Jones is clear he doesn’t want that to happen, but at the same time he says the Cowboys are not going to blow up their long-term financial plan.
“I don’t think that’s the best way for us to go at all,” Jones said. “But as far as doing something that would disrupt and shake the base of our plans for how to keep the talent we’ve got here, I’m not about to shake that loose.”
The Jones men are trying to play hardball. Is it just posturing, or are they serious about not giving in even if it means Zeke misses some/all of the season?
August 6th will be an important date. It will give us an indication of where Zeke’s thoughts are in all of this. Once that point is passed, both sides will really be showing their cards. The question will be - who is holding the losing hand?