Is cutting Ezekiel Elliott an option for the Dallas Cowboys?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

This was supposed to be a bounce-back year for Ezekiel Elliott. After back-to-back down seasons, criticism of the former All-Pro back had hit fever pitch in Dallas Cowboys circles. Not only was he no longer considered a top running back in the NFL anymore, but many felt he was no longer the best running back on his own team anymore.

Zeke entered the 2021 season a man on a mission. The noticeably svelte 26-year-old appeared to looked revitalized. He moved easier, cut more explosively, and overall he displayed more illusiveness. It was a sight to behold and for the first part of the season, he looked like the Zeke of old (or do I mean of young?).

But as with much of this team’s offensive success, the brilliance was short-lived. The once-galloping offense began to plod and after their one-and-done playoff appearance, the skeletons began to emerge from the closet.

One of such dark secrets was that Ezekiel Elliott played the last part of the season with a torn PCL.

Ezekiel Elliott’s best days are far behind him, but can the Dallas Cowboys cut him?

The problem with Zeke is two-fold:

  1. He’s not a productive weapon for the Dallas Cowboys anymore
  2. The Dallas Cowboys are obsessed with trying to prove that fact wrong

The Dallas Cowboys running game was a disaster

The Dallas Cowboys running game cratered this past season. From Week 9 on, Dallas produced a 37.7% success rate on the ground to go with a -.074 in expected points added/play.

That means 62.3% of running plays hurt the Cowboys scoring chances on that drive. This explains that on average, plays to Zeke offered up a net loss in that time. Zeke specifically seemed to decline dramatically midseason. He noticeably hit a wall, which syncs up with reports of said PCL injury.

While all phases of the Dallas running game were poor this past season, Tony Pollard once again outperformed Zeke in most major efficiency categories

Which brings us to the second problem:

The Dallas Cowboys are obsessed with Zeke succeeding

Instead of deferring carries to the healthy and more explosive running back waiting in the wings, Tony Pollard, the Dallas Cowboys chose to stubbornly force-feed their “star” running back. The top-down directive was so ridiculous, there was even a concentrated effort in Week 18 to get Zeke to the 1,000 yard benchmark when they could have been resting him up for the postseason.

We can discuss the meaning behind a 1000-yard cumulative total (spoiler alert: it means nothing regarding the quality of RB), but the point is the Cowboys powers-that-be felt compelled to feed their least effective weapon all season, despite the fact his touches hurt the team more often than helped the team (an actual fact).

It’s praise worthy the way Ezekiel Elliott fought through injury to give the Dallas Cowboys all he had. He showed grit, determination, and character in his effort. But the fact of the matter is he’s a high priced detriment to the offense and the Cowboys front office feels the constant need to double-down on their mistakes.

Can the Cowboys cut Zeke?

The short answer is yes, but not painlessly. Ezekiel Elliott is on the books for a staggering $18,220,000 this season. That’s over 8% of the expected cap. If the Dallas Cowboys designate him as a post-June 1st cut, they’ll eat that full amount of dead money plus another $10 million in coming seasons to total $30 million (per OTC). Sound crazy? It is. But if you look at this as an addition by subtraction scenario then it may be worth it.


If the Dallas Cowboys kick the can another year and cut bait after the 2022 season, things get far less sunk-cost-y. At that point the Cowboys are only eating the $11.86 million and have a much clearer exit strategy.

Will the Cowboys cut Zeke?

Despite all the reasons why they should, the odds of Dallas cutting ties with Zeke this offseason are slim. While it’s an investment fallacy to consider sunk costs, the Joneses are no-doubt considering it. Speaking of the Joneses, they’re the ones so stubbornly committed to their broken-down workhorse. To expect them to suddenly 180 on the matter is a little optimistic, don’t you think?

The soonest we can reasonably expect the Cowboys to move on from Zeke isn’t until next year and even then it’s somewhat a question. The “Cowboy Way” defies logic but so do the Cowboys’ Mandalorian-like owners, so here we are.

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  • Published on 01/19/2022 at 13:58 PM
  • Last updated at 01/19/2022 at 18:49 PM