Throughout the early portions of the Cowboys freshly minted offseason, running back seems to be one of the positions discussed the most. According to multiple reports, Ezekiel Elliott wants to remain with the team and is willing to take a pay cut to do so. His production has plummeted through the years and the drop-off was noticeably steep the last month of the season.
So the question is: what should the Cowboys do with Ezekiel Elliott this offseason?
The are two options that are pretty clear. Either he will be cut, or he will remain on the roster on a smaller salary. Looking at his numbers, he rushed the ball a career low 231 times in 2022. He also notched a career low in rushing yards, amassing 876, which is the only time he has rushed for less than 950 yards in a season. It was also his first season he averaged less than four yards per carry. To round off the underwhelming stats, he saw career lows in yards per game, targets, receptions, and receiving yards per game. Needless to say, his production is not where it needs to be for him to continue to be a big-contract player on this Cowboys offense.
He leads all active running backs in touches, over the likes of Mark Ingram and Melvin Gordon, both of whom have played for multiple teams throughout their career. Tony Pollard getting injured in the last game of the season isn’t ideal for a Cowboys backfield that struggled mightily at the end of the season. In the last four games, Elliott has averaged less than two yards per carry twice. His highest YPC in that stretch was 2.6. To put that in perspective, only one running back in the top-20 of yards this past NFL season averaged less than four yards per carry, Najee Harris at 3.8. Elliott’s production is well below the league’s current standard at running back.
Take a look at the leading rusher from the last 14 Super Bowls and their base salary: pic.twitter.com/sBC97Upzh0— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) February 13, 2023
Since 2009, the highest paid Super Bowl leading rusher earned $2.5 million dollars on the season. Overpaying for a running back was a mistake and now, and the Cowboys are at a crossroad and need to make a decision on the future of their backfield.
Elliott, who will turn 28 this summer, is due to make a $10.9 million base salary in 2023 with a $16.72 million cap number. The Cowboys can “start over’’ with Zeke by cutting him thus creating $10.9 million in cap space but $4.9 million in dead money, netting a $6 million benefit. ... at which time they could circle back and re-sign him to a new deal.
If you’d like the $6 million dollar net, cutting Elliott is on the table. Keeping him is also on the table, but his cap would need to be redone, as well as his production. He isn’t a 20-attempt back anymore and as long as that is realized, he should reach new career lows yet again due to an overall decrease in attempts, whether Pollard is there or not.