Can the Dallas Cowboys overcome the Ezekiel Elliott contract?

Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys have an Ezekiel Elliot problem, and there’s no easy fix.

Even in a down year, there are still no bye weeks for the Dallas Cowboys. Sure, this season went up in smoke the moment quarterback Dak Prescott went down with a dislocated and broken ankle on October 11th, but even then, there was a developing void in the Dallas backfield. Running back Ezekiel Elliott’s production had already started to wane and has since fallen off a cliff.

There are several reasons that this is the case, and not all of them are Elliott’s doing. His offensive line is a shell of its former self. The retirement of Travis Frederick and the injury woes of Tyron Smith will take the starch out of any running back. So it’s easy to give Zeke a pass on that front, if only because there’s been significant drop in the quality of linemen in front of him.

But Elliott’s backup, Tony Pollard–also running behind that same line–averages 4.4 yards a carry, which is over a half yard better than Elliott’s 3.8. And while the fumbles have been cleaned up, they certainly didn’t do anything to help while the Cowboys were playing from massive deficits earlier this season.

There’s also the lack of yardage after contact. Elliott used to shake tacklers loose and make guys miss. He simply doesn’t do that anymore. He doesn’t appear to be fighting through an injury, save for the wonky hamstring that was giving him trouble last week. So it does beg the question: is Ezekiel Elliott already washed up?

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If he is, then that’s a massive problem. It’s not just because he’s looked upon to be a team leader. It’s because of that ridiculous contract extension he signed prior to last season. Of course, the absurd amount of money the Cowboys sunk into Elliott isn’t his fault. He’s within his right to seek every nickel coming to him. It’s just that the conventional wisdom is that you do not pay running backs that kind of cash. A player must be transcendent to be worth that kind of investment, and as good as Zeke has been for large stretches of his career, the Cowboys had no business shelling out that much money to a player who already has as much mileage on his tires as Elliott.

So what’s the fix? Barring a miraculous return to form next season, there likely isn’t one. At least not when it comes to a relatively painless remedy. If the organization is honest with themselves, it’s probably best to rip that band aid off as early as this offseason and live through a year of salary cap Hades and just be rid of it. The numbers do not lie. Elliott’s yards per game have decreased every year he’s been in the league, and are down to a career-low 63.6 yard average for this season.

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Again, not all of that is his fault. But in a year where the Dallas Cowboys could have used a spark from anyone on the roster, it needed to have been Zeke. Thus far, he hasn’t provided any glimpse of the player he used to be. So it’s absolutely fair to wonder if that player no longer exists and question whether or not it’s time to move on.

  • Published on 11/16/2020 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 11/16/2020 at 11:15 AM