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There should be no lack of motivation for Ezekiel Elliott to perform in 2021

The whispers around Zeke are becoming louder, but he could use 2021 to silence them all.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

If the Dallas Cowboys offense really wants to be the best in the NFL, they need their workhorse running back to perform up to his previous level. The Cowboys shelled out a huge amount of money to Ezekiel Elliott when he held out a few years ago, and that contract was based on one thing - that Elliott was a top-tier running back who could produce big plays for the offense.

That assumption has not met reality recently. We have chronicled the recent decline in play from Elliott, including a 2020 season that produced some truly ordinary numbers and had too many fumbles to add to the misery. There are certainly circumstances that mitigate the 2020 results, including an injured offensive line and playing without the starting quarterback. That can make life rough on a running back.

Still, as we’ve noted, Elliott looked a step slow last year and didn’t really resemble the player that burst onto the scene in his first few years with the Cowboys. Bleacher Report notes some of this lack of explosion.

Elliott rushed for a career-low 979 yards and six touchdowns (tied for his career low) in 2020, posting a long run of just 31 yards.

...

[Tony Pollard] had four carries of 20-plus yards in 2020 in 101 carries versus three for Elliott in 244 carries.

The good news is that we’ve also chronicled Zeke’s seemingly renewed dedication to his offseason regime. There have been the short video posts of him working on his footwork, and there is the praise from different sources about how good he has looked in the offseason program. It’s also been said the usually talkative Elliott has avoided speaking to the press during some of the offseason sessions.

All of that would suggest Elliott has found plenty of motivation for the 2021 season. But if he needed anymore, this quote might just be the ticket.

“They want to get Zeke Elliott going. He has regressed the last few years to the point where some league evaluators are wondering maybe he’s more of a second-tier guy, because only seven runs of 20-plus yards the last two seasons. Maybe he’ll regain his 2016 form this year,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler said Thursday on Get Up.

Ouch! A second-tier guy?

We like to think of athletes as self-motivated. And to a certain extent they are or they wouldn’t be where they are today. But they are also human. They react to the way people speak about them, especially in this day and age of social media and round-the-clock media coverage. If Elliott sees that quote, it will be just one more log on his offseason motivation fire.

2021 is a huge year for Elliott. The Cowboys can get out from the contract with Zeke after 2022 with an acceptable penalty of $6.7 million in dead cap money. The Cowboys also have Tony Pollard waiting in the wings who has shown very capable qualities in short sample sizes. His explosive ability and versatility in the passing game are very attractive features.

If Elliott fails to recapture his form in 2021, 2022 will be a very interesting year in the running back room.