For a while, it was believed that the identity of the Dallas Cowboys was Ezekiel Elliott and their dominant offensive line under former head coach Jason Garrett. As soon as Ezekiel Elliott was taken with the fourth pick of the 2016 draft, he was tabbed to be the centerpiece behind the brand of what was commonly known as “Cowboys football’.
Almost immediately, Elliott, and also quarterback Dak Prescott, established themselves as the future of the Dallas Cowboys. With both players in tow, the Cowboys’ plan was clear and direct. Pound opposing defenses with Elliott and their elite offense offensive line, which would give Prescott the ability to take advantage of the stacked boxes with easier passing options.
Though Prescott was emerging as a very good young quarterback, Elliott would serve as the offense’s driving force in the early stages of their careers. When Elliott missed six games in 2017 due to a league suspension, the offense struggled and cause many to conjecture that it was Elliott who made the Cowboys’ offense as potent as it was, and he was called “the straw that stirred the drink”.
After leading the NFL in rushing in two of his first four seasons, Elliott realized his value and demanded to be compensated for his production.
After a lengthy holdout that saw Elliott training away from the team in Mexico and controversial comments from Jerry Jones, a deal was finalized. Elliott signed a then-market-setting six-year, $90M contract.
Fast forward to the current state of affairs and that contract is looking more and more dubious with each passing season. Since 2019, Elliott’s productivity has decreased sharply. Statistics such as total yards, yards per carry, and yards receiving have mostly plummeted in the last three years.
Lately, there have been rumblings of Elliott taking a pay cut to remain with the team, but that would be an unwise decision to make, and releasing Elliott altogether would be the more practical choice to make. Some disagree and think the situation with Elliott under a reworked contract is salvageable. However, if so, the question one needs to ask is does Elliott provide a beneficial value even at a lower cap charge? Also, how does that impact the team in the capacity he would be used in?
Even at a discount, it’s not worth it. The former All-Pro could serve as a useful goal-line runner and has been a good pass protector, and an adequate lead blocker. Additionally, some fans may be satisfied with his production last year (876 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns) but overall, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, even for cheap.
Elliott doesn’t have the explosiveness as a runner to consistently take advantage of available run lanes. It’s also difficult to call plays for him that take him on a lateral path to begin with, like counters or toss plays. This creates an additional handicap. Plus, Elliott has not been as good a pass catcher either.
Zeke Elliott's RYOE for 2022 and comparison to other RBS pic.twitter.com/OtKwal4d2L— LP Cruz (@SDQFlightCrew) January 29, 2023
When you examine the rushing yards over expected (RYOE) for Elliott last season, it gives you a clearer barometer as to how far he’s fallen. Perhaps not unsurprising, Elliott stands behind Tony Pollard. However, what is surprising is Elliott also behind runners that will be free agents this offseason and will have much cheaper asking prices, like D’Onta Foreman and Jeff Wilson Jr.
What’s most confounding about the entire set of circumstances is Elliott’s only 27 years old and he’s already declined steadily for the last three years. The last reason this union between Elliott and the Cowboys has to end is the cloud that hangs over the offense at large and the influence held by the front office to get every dime out of Elliott’s contract in terms of his usage.
Jerry Jones: “We go as Zeke goes.” pic.twitter.com/8CfiB4ZoD3— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 30, 2022
Remember these words from Jerry Jones because this front office is borderline unreasonably effusive in the praise of Elliott. It’s been expressed that they believe the lion’s share of the success had by the offense in recent years is tied to Ezekiel Elliott.
Having Elliott back in any capacity urges the front office to insist upon Elliott keeping a sizable usage despite it no longer being appropriate. Take Jason Witten for example. Witten, akin to Elliott, was a fan favorite for numerous years. A player in who the front office became emotionally invested. So much so that Witten was able to retire abruptly, then un-retire and regain his starting job immediately upon his return.
That’s not who Elliott is, however, he’s a good teammate and has become a close friend to Dak Prescott who he came into the league with. All good things come to an end, and breaking up is hard to do especially with those that you’ve grown with and because of.