Cowboys’ deal with Ezekiel Elliott is fast-becoming one of NFL’s worst. And it may set up a divorce in 2021.
Almost 16 months ago, when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stepped in front of the CNBC cameras after signing the richest running-back contract in NFL history, he sounded like a man who - maybe more than anyone else - for the lavish $ 90 million deal he wanted to sign with Ezekiel Elliott.
Jones talked about how Elliott "worked" and "used his skills" to break into his market. He raved about Elliott's "big heart" and twisted thin logic about how Emmitt Smith proved that running backs could have long careers in the NFL. And in what underscored the reality of the moment, Jones briefly recognized what many were thinking that day.
"When you talk about that kind of money," said Jones, "we're all overpaid."
At this point, Jones might not understand how right he was. In a little less than two seasons, and with most of the business starting in 2021, reality has collapsed almost as hard as Elliott's performance. The two Tempo deals that helped put Elliott's salary in orbit were exposed as disastrous (see: Todd Gurley's now-void deal with the Los Angeles Rams and David Johnson's dumped contract with the Arizona Cardinals), and Elliott himself has seen his place Among the best running backs in the league are trends that are gradually turning away from him.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Ezekiel Elliott is 525 yards less than his 2019 quick performance of 1,357 yards. (AP Photo / Michael Ainsworth)
How Ezekiel Elliott's pay now looks like eye pain
Is there still room for a physical bell buyer who devours most of the stretcher and doesn't give a lot of consideration to the passing game? Yes. But his name is Derrick Henry and he looks like a unicorn, something Elliott should be at this point in his career. All other comers with similar skills are split carry backs, the physical nature of which is emphasized by a run mate. The rest of the league's special rushers, who dominate the backfield touch, play a major role in temporary offenses like Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints, Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings, and (if healthy), players like the Carolina Panthers Christian McCaffrey and the New York Giants Saquon Barkley.
The only guy in this entire collection who most closely resembles Elliott's style is Henry, and he's also the least paid guy in the group, aside from Barkley, who still has his rookie deal. It's also noteworthy that when Elliott signed his renewal, he received exponentially more practical guarantees: about $ 50 million, that's $ 12 million more than what the Panthers gave McCaffrey.
All of this is an ugly bill considering Elliott is struggling with his health again and not found in the top 10 of the league in week 16.
In all of this, there are a few points that should come into focus: Elliott is definitely not worth his deal right now; He could be a bigger feature of Dallas' offensive line than previously thought. and with the cowboys on the verge of having wage cap issues or completely imploding into rebuilding in the near future, high-priced rewind is a bigger problem than anyone had hoped it would go into 2021.
That's not to say that Dallas can't lead Elliott's contract in 2021, which is a manageable cap of $ 13.7 million. It is to be said that the pay will look like a stranded whale as he repeats a 2020 performance that put him under an intense microscope. As Jerry said when he signed the deal, Elliott is overpaid. But he's creeping into Gurley's Rams territory, which was ultimately determined to fall into the "way overpaid" category.
Tony Pollard is doing well behind a suspicious offensive line
As deep as Jones' loyalty may be, they are being tested to see if the battered and ineffective Elliott we see in 2020 transitions into a good but not exceptional Elliott in 2021, especially if Dallas continues to stare down the run of An Astronomical Expansion for quarterback Dak Prescott and several other financial burdens that will come with retooling the team's defense (which now seems inevitable).
Elliott wasn't assisted by backup Tony Pollard, who ran behind the same offensive lines but has been far more productive with his touches over the past two seasons - albeit with a limited exposure that would likely detract from some of Pollard's effectiveness than average taking his touches to. But sometimes it's undeniable that Pollard looks like he's running harder, taking his chances faster, and also playing a more varied role in the passing offense too.
Jones had none of that in mind in late summer 2019. Instead, he smiled at cameras and gritted his teeth as he joked about fattening up Elliott's wallet. All the noise was justified because the future seemed so certain. The offense had its young building blocks in place, and an extension with Prescott seemed inevitable (and likely cheaper than what happened). The defense had talent and depth. The coaching team wasn't entirely written off after ending the 2018 season with a strong run and a playoff win.
Now? Much of that certainty has fallen apart. And no one is quite sure what will happen from here. Perhaps the defensive coaching team will be fired and provided with teachers who schematically make sense with the talent. Maybe Prescott will come back safe and crying. Perhaps head coach Mike McCarthy is recovering and proving the total lack of will to criticize him is well founded.
And maybe the Ezekiel Elliott that the Cowboys hoped they would sign - a dominant load-carry guy in the shape of a Derrick Henry - was finally hoping. Meanwhile, uncertainty grows and the weight of the questions about Elliott is offset by the strain on the contract he fails to live up to.
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