Dallas Cowboys Strategy For Ezekiel Elliott Contract Extension

Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys say they want to extend Ezekiel Elliott into the long term future, and history shows they probably will – and here’s how they do it.

The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best track records in NFL history with great running backs. Super Bowl championships have been won with the likes of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith in the backfield, and fourth-year running back Ezekiel Elliott is about as good as either of those two Hall of Fame rushers.

For this discussion, we’ll use Smith as an indicator as he played football during an era that’s very similar to today’s NFL. The salary cap went into effect the very year Smith held out demanding his second contract in 1993, or his first major extension.

Elliott is at the very same point in his career that Smith was when the former Florida Gators running back demanded more. The Dallas Cowboys had just won their third Super Bowl in franchise history, but also the first under the ownership of Jerry Jones and leadership of head coach Jimmy Johnson.

In 1993, Smith held all the cards and after an unexpected 0-2 start to begin defense of that Super Bowl win just nine months before, Jones caved and paid his super star ball carrier.

Like Smith, Elliott also has two NFL rushing championships heading into his fourth season, and he’s poised to win another one in 2019. At this stage of his career, Elliott knows the time is now to get paid.

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But Elliott doesn’t have the same kind of leverage Smith had.

The Cowboys have yet to make it past the divisional round of the NFC playoffs with Smith in the backfield in two tries. A six-game suspension served in 2017 is likely the reason we’re not talking about a three-time rushing champion in Elliott, which would include every year in which he’s played following a monster-career at Ohio State University.

The NFL is running away from paying running backs. The issue isn’t the importance of running the ball or a general dislike of running backs. The reality is that the salary cap mandates that teams prioritize positions based how much they cost. In this case, running backs generally run well for four to five years and then they’re knocking on the door to 30 years old and the ride’s almost over. Then there’s no time for a five or six year mega-contract extension because the running back in question isn’t likely to be worth that money well before the contract is up.

So, the Dallas Cowboys have the leverage because of those previousloy mentioned reasons, but also because of that fifth-year option they just picked up on their 2016 first-round pick.

Here’s the deal: Elliott is under contract for two more seasons and he’s interested in getting paid now, or at least very soon. Now’s the time for the Cowboys to do for Elliott what they didn’t do for Smith.

If you’re Elliott’s representation, it would be wise to take a deal that might represent 10-to-15 percent off anticipated market value in 2020, which would probably be about what Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams got last year. The Cowboys might be able to fall just below that, although I doubt it.

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However, turning your nose up at an average salary of close to $15 million per year over four years, or about $20 million in guarateed money, is not the smartest call. A lot can happen to a running back in the NFL and remember there’s not a long-term career at this position to begin with. To turn that down would mean Elliott’s camp would be betting on him being worth well more than that in two years, and that might be true – but it’s not a $20 million guarantee by any stretch.

  • Published on 05/07/2019 at 12:00 PM
  • Last updated at 05/07/2019 at 07:27 AM