Not that it was ever really in doubt, but there are two Cowboys veterans whose contracts just became guaranteed for future seasons. Both Jaylon Smith and Ezekiel Elliott have received their fair share of criticism stemming from the 2020 season and their outsized contracts compared to production. Scenarios were concocted along the interwebs where either player was cut or traded, but those were likely never going to happen.
Smith and Elliott had clauses where their contracts became guaranteed on the fifth day of the new NFL calendar year, and that date was last Sunday.
Starting inside linebacker Jaylon Smith’s 2021 base salary of $7.2 million was guaranteed when he remained on the roster Sunday afternoon. Smith led the Cowboys with 154 tackles last season while playing in 16 games.
Smith has the fifth-highest base salary on the team in 2021.
Starting running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 2022 base salary of $12.4 million was also fully guaranteed with the team electing to keep him on the roster. Elliott’s status, like Smith’s, wasn’t in doubt. Elliott’s 2021 base salary of $9.6 million was guaranteed when he was on the roster on the fifth day of the league year in 2020.
Jaylon Smith’s status was probably just a tiny bit more in doubt than Ezekiel Elliott’s status, but neither player was really not going to be on the 2021 roster, and as noted above, Elliott’s salary is now guaranteed for 2022, so he’s not going anywhere.
Smith, on the other hand, probably needs a productive year for Dan Quinn in the new defense or the Cowboys could start looking elsewhere. 2022 is the first year where the Cowboys can really get out of Smith’s contract without a huge contract penalty. His dead cap figure of $6.8 million in 2022 is one they could possibly handle if Smith continues to be a liability in some ways.
Elliott also needs a bounce-back year, particularly when it comes to not fumbling the football. If Elliott could solve that issue, then his declining rushing numbers wouldn’t be such a burden to the team. He can still help move the ball, but he just can’t put the ball on the ground.