The Cowboys just might be dealing with some drama as training camp begins.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott has “privately said that he will hold out of training camp unless he gets a new contract.”
Assuming the report is true, this is obviously not a great development for the Cowboys. Zeke is incredibly important to a Dallas team that really believes in running the ball. We all saw how the Cowboys struggled without Elliott when he was suspended for six games in 2017.
In some ways, it feels like the Cowboys have no choice but to pay Zeke. They don’t have an adequate replacement and it’s not like Dak Prescott is suddenly going to carry the team with his arm.
At the same time, paying Zeke could be a huge mistake. He’s only 23, sure, but he’s already logged 1,003 total offensive touches over three seasons. There’s a good reason why NFL teams are reluctant to spend valuable resources on ball carriers; it’s typically not a great investment. Running back is arguably the league’s most fungible position.
Literally the two most elite backs in the game (Bell & Gurley) had to be replaced in 2018 and the run game didn’t suffer.— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) July 14, 2019
In fact, the run game was <gasp> more productive in 2018 with their absence.https://t.co/0GWwu24idH
In the big picture, the Cowboys would be smart to hold their ground and not overpay Zeke. But replacing his elite production won’t be so easy. It’s a tough spot for Dallas.
And that’s without even mentioning Elliott’s history of getting in trouble. This is a player who’s on thin ice with the league. It shouldn’t take much for him to get suspended in future seasons.
Making matters even more complicated for the Cowboys is that they’re currently negotiating long-term contracts with the aforementioned Prescott and Amari Cooper. There’s more urgency for Dallas when it comes to those deals since they’re both currently scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in March, whereas Zeke is signed through 2020.
And so Elliott could try to make his situation more urgent by not reporting to camp. Again, the Cowboys’ offensive success really depends on him, so he has leverage here.
Eagles fans should be rooting for the Cowboys to pay Zeke a lot of money because there’s a good chance that would end up being a bad investment for Dallas. A Zeke contract — combined with a huge Prescott overpay — could hinder the Cowboys’ ability to retain other key starters with contracts coming up such as Byron Jones, Jaylon Smith, La’el Collins, etc.
Alternatively, Eagles fans could root for Zeke to stage his holdout as long as necessary so he misses the Cowboys’ games against Philadelphia this year. That likely won’t be happening, of course, but the Eagles sure wouldn’t mind if it did come to that.
As much as it’s annoying to admit, the Cowboys have done a nice job of finding good, young talent. But now Dallas is in a spot where they’ll have to prioritize the talent they keep. The NFL salary cap prevents the Cowboys from simply spending unlimited money to retain all of their players. Tough decisions will have to be made, including the one on Zeke.