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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Running Back

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

For three seasons now, Ezekiel Elliott has been the best runner in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys will continue to lean on him in 2019, but the rest of the running back depth chart could use some work this offseason.

Along with Zeke's backups, the fullback position may also need to be addressed. But given how little Jamize Olawale was used last year, Dallas might look at combining some of the roles going forward.

We can't just skip Elliott and go to these other issues, though. He's entering the final year of his rookie contract, putting some big decisions in front of the Cowboys as far as a long-term extension or whether or not to exercise the fifth-year option.

The latter decision must be made soon. The deadline for fifth-year options on the class of 2016 is May 3rd of this year. We now know that the amount for Zeke would be about $9 million for 2020. He would then become an unrestricted free agent in 2021, barring any other contract extension.

Dallas will almost certainly exercise that option. It's basically a discounted franchise tag for them, which is one of the team-friendly aspects of using a first-round draft pick. It also secures Zeke's rights for two more years and gives the team some leverage in any long-term negotiations.

What's more, with Elliott's 2019 cap hit already at $7.94 million, that fifth-year amount won't be any big blow to the 2020 salary cap.

Whatever happens here, we know for sure that Ezekiel Elliott will once again be the featured player in the Cowboys' offense this season. Now let's get to the moving parts.

Dallas Cowboys Need More From RB Rod Smith

Dallas Cowboys RB Rod Smith

After over three seasons with Dallas, Rod Smith is about to become an unrestricted free agent. He's been a solid backup for Zeke and a standout special teams player. Still just 27, Smith should be a useful addition to someone's roster.

Perhaps that roster should be the Cowboys. Smith had added value for Dallas given his system experience, plus he has the versatility to play some fullback.

Last season's fullback, Olawale, played on less than 11% of the team's total offensive snaps. Is that usage rate really worth keeping a dedicated FB on the roster?

In past years, we've seen Dallas utilize one of its tight ends as a backfield blocker. They could do the same with one of their backup RBs, giving them more total value out of a single roster spot.


If the Cowboys like Rod's blocking ability enough then perhaps he can be that guy. However, it is worth nothing that he was beaten out by Kevin Smith for the FB role back in 2016. Perhaps blocking was the issue then.

The point here is that if Rod Smith or some other free agent can provide RB depth while also covering those relatively few snaps at FB, that would be a great use of resources for Dallas going forward.

Will RB Darius Jackson Stick With Cowboys Second Time Around? 1

Dallas Cowboys RB Darius Jackson (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

One guy hoping to finally stick around is Darius Jackson, who's on his third stint with the Cowboys after being a sixth-round pick in 2016. Other teams have claimed him off waivers and signed him off the practice squad over the last three years, but Dallas keep bringing him back.

Darius has the speed to do some damage with clear running lanes. Hopefully, the Cowboys getting Travis Frederick pack and seeing some second-year growth from Connor Williams will provide just that. It could increase Jackson's value to them as a reserve.

One issue for guys like Rod or Darius will be a loaded free agent market for running backs, giving Dallas plenty of options with more experience and/or upside.

As hard as it is to take a talent like Zeke off the field, it may be time for the Cowboys to start considering spreading out his workload a little. If they truly plan on a long-term relationship with Elliott then they risk running his wheels off at his current number of carries.

Making an investment in a talented number-two back, either through free agency or the draft, would make sense if Dallas intends to keep Zeke beyond 2021.

Not only will it help save some wear and tear on Elliott, but there comes a point that you have to be worried about a serious injury. Even the most durable players can have that one bad hit, and nobody wants to see this offense trying to function without a solid running game.

So even though Ezekiel Elliott commands the heavy focus, and looks to be here at least the next two seasons, the Cowboys still clearly have some work to do at running back. They need to figure out the backup spot this offseason, as well as the fullback role, and make sure they're covered for all situations.

They've put far too much emphasis on the running game to ever take it lightly.


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Dallas Cowboys

QB Colin Kaepernick to Hold Workout, Cowboys Showing an Interest

Brian Martin

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QB Colin Kaepernick to Hold a Workout, Will Cowboys be Interested?

Former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is apparently attempting to resurrect his NFL career and will hold a private workout for teams on Saturday in Atlanta according to Adam Schefter.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

NFL clubs were informed today that a private workout will be held for Colin Kaepernick on Saturday in Atlanta. Session will include on-field work and an interview. All clubs are invited to attend, and video of both the workout and interview will be made available to clubs.

For fans who believed Colin Kaepernick was blackballed after all of the kneeling during the national anthem fiasco, this is long overdue. For everyone else, they probably couldn't care less. But, where exactly do the Dallas Cowboys stand? After all, that's all we really care about here around Cowboys Nation. Right!?

Well, it appears as if the Dallas Cowboys could be at least a little bit interested. Or, it could just be them doing their due diligence. Either way, it looks as if they will have somebody on hand at the workout.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

After speaking to another team from my last tweet, as of now, I'm told there is interest within the #Cowboys organization to send at least one representative to Colin Kaepernick's workout, per source.

If you put aside all of the protest stuff and kneeling during the national anthem, this is a move that actually makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. And, you can bet that this is an opportunity Kaepernick himself has been waiting for.

Colin Kaepernick on Twitter

I'm just getting word from my representatives that the NFL league office reached out to them about a workout in Atlanta on Saturday. I've been in shape and ready for this for 3 years, can't wait to see the head coaches and GMs on Saturday.

This may be the opportunity Kaepernick has been waiting for, but why should the Cowboys be interested? Well, let me try to lay it out for you little better…


You see, the Dallas Cowboys are going to need another backup quarterback next season. Cooper Rush is in the last year of his rookie contract and is set to become a free agent after the completion of the 2019 season. In Colin Kaepernick they would not only be upgrading Dak Prescott's backup, but also adding a QB with a similar skill set as him as well.

Now, there is a catch of course. There always is. Kaepernick hasn't thrown a pass in the NFL since the 2016 season. Also, he'd have to be willing to accept a backup role. Those are some pretty big red flags, but he could do a lot worse than bringing his talent to Texas as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys could actually be the best spot for him to resurrect his career. The national attention he would receive as a member of America's Team could be the best place for him to put his talents on display and prove he still has something left in the tank, even if it is in a backup role. If he can do that, there's no telling where his career could go from there.

In all honesty, this sounds like a win-win for both the Dallas Cowboys and Colin Kaepernick. Uniting these two could be a match made in heaven. It's very possible both parties are interested in one another, but unfortunately we won't know how things turn out anytime soon. It's a waiting game now…

Do you think Colin Kaepernick would be a good fit with the Dallas Cowboys?


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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Turned Their Back on Prescott’s MVP Performance

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Turned Their Back on Prescott's MVP Performance

The Dallas Cowboys have lost games to the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. Last Sunday Night, the Cowboys hosted the Vikings on primetime and lost in a game that went down to the wire. It felt like the toughest loss of the season. Why? Let's dive in to this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday.

Cowboys Turned Their Back on Dak Prescott's MVP Performance

Cowboys Nation was shocked with the Cowboys' play-calling late in the game and for good reason. After starting the drive backed up at their own five, Prescott completed six of seven passes for 79 yards. Then, on second down and two to go, the Cowboys ran the ball with Ezekiel Elliott for no gain. On a short yardage down, that was comprehensible. Maybe not ideal, but understandable. On third down, though, they handed it off again to Zeke.

In the game in which Dak Prescott was playing at an MVP level, with less than two minutes on the clock, the Cowboys took the ball away from him to put the game on the star running back who was having a rough day with less than 50 yards against a stout Vikings defense.

Now granted, the play on third down seemed to be an RPO concept with Jason Witten as the pass option. But why are you giving Dak one pass option when he's dominated all night? Why are you instead trusting Elliott in a game in which he failed to average three yards per carry? Prescott was unbelievably clutch, throwing for almost 400 yards, three touchdowns and a 100% conversion rate on 3rd & 7+.

This was by far the number one reason why the loss to the Vikings was so frustrating to watch. The Cowboys have a franchise quarterback. But they need to learn to trust him as such and put the games on his hands when needed. Not on their running back, regardless of how much they pay each.

Coaching Staff Must Improve If Cowboys are to Reach Their Goals

Jason Garrett Must Be More Aggressive in Fourth Down Decisions

It's easy to say this in retrospective, but I believe the Cowboys didn't make the right decisions when facing fourth down last Sunday night. The first notorious decision came in the second quarter, when the Cowboys faced 4th & 4 with the ball on the Vikings' 40 yard-line. Being behind 14-0, they decided to punt.

It turned out fine for the Cowboys in the end, tying the game 14-14 later in the second. But the analytics trend in the NFL really has evidence to back up the fact that Dallas should've gone for it in such a critical spot.


In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys decided to kick the field goal being on their opponents' five. Down 21-28, Brett Maher went out to kick the field goal, which put the Cowboys behind by four points instead of seven. They still needed a touchdown to take the lead with ten minutes left on the game.

Kevin Brady took a deeper look at the Cowboys' win probabilities on this article for Inside The Star.

Kevin Brady on Twitter

was working on a post for @InsideTheStarDC on this last night. here's the estimated WP for each scenario on that fourth and goal.

The Baltimore Ravens are taking the league by storm using analytics and making the right decisions in fourth down. Yet, some teams in the NFL are not catching up. The Cowboys are one of those teams.

Cowboys Defense Exposed Again

The main reason the Cowboys lost to the Vikings was coaching and that's clear. But defense earned the second place. Kirk Cousins played a good game versus Rod Marinelli's unit, despite the box score suggesting otherwise. He made a couple of impressive throws at AT&T Stadium while Kyle Rudolph finished night with two touchdown catches and a two point conversion.

Dalvin Cook, one of the toughest offensive weapons to face in this league totaled 183 yards last weekend. It's not easy to face Cook and limit him and the Cowboys failed to do so. The linebackers had a very rough day overall and there wasn't a single performance to point out as a positive.

Slow Starts Won't Stop

Every week. Every week we talk about how this Cowboys team started slow against any opponent. In six games, they haven't scored a TD in the first quarter. Not even at the beginning of the season, when they went 3-0 against poor teams did they start a game on the right foot. Who to blame? Both players and coaches, but I'd lean toward coaching first.

Bottom line, there's a huge problem with the way this football team prepares for gameday and the Cowboys need to figure it out fast. Their backs are against the wall and playing from behind every game costs games. At 5-4 and headed toward tough opponents in the second half of the season, it's time to put an end to such starts.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Turned Their Back on Prescott’s MVP Performance" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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Are the Dallas Cowboys Letting Ego Affect Offensive Play-Calling?

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Jerry Jones

There is a lot to complain about after the Dallas Cowboys' loss last night to the Minnesota Vikings. But what seems to be the most universally reviled topic is Dallas' stubborn use of Ezekiel Elliott and the run game, and I can't help but wonder if it stems from an ego-driven need to validate Zeke's new contract.

Just before the start of the regular season, the Cowboys made Elliott the NFL's highest-paid running back at $15 million per year. There was no lack of criticism for this decision; many argued that the modern pass-happy NFL doesn't need RBs paid at the franchise level. There were also some direct concerns about Zeke and his ability to endure as a top-tier runner, avoid personal conduct issues, or both.

After nine games in the 2019 season Elliott has given Dallas a decent return on their investment. He is currently ranked sixth in rushing yards per game despite the team's move to a more pass-focused offense. And though it will take doing, Zeke could still make up the roughly 200-yard distance between league leaders Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey.

Even while Dak Prescott is set to have a career-high in passing attempts the Cowboys are still committed to getting Ezekiel Elliott his touches. And that's not bad; you don't spend a 4th-overall draft pick and huge cap dollars on a guy you don't plan to make a focal point of your offense.

But last Sunday night, we saw Dallas keep trying to fit a Zeke-shaped peg into a Dak-shaped hole.

The Vikings were helpless against the Cowboys' passing attack all game long; Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Randall Cobb were having their way with Minnesota's secondary. Meanwhile, Zeke had one of the worst days of his career with only 2.35 yards-per-carry; the lowest production rate he's ever had when getting 20 rushing attempts or more.

Ezekiel Elliott, Vikings

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Over the course of an entire game you can't completely throw out the run or pass portions of the playbook. You still have to keep the defense honest in either scenario.

And, to be fair, you can understand why Dallas thought Zeke would eventually get it going. After the Vikings got shredded by the Cowboys' passing game most of the night, you would assume they'd eventually start devoting more resources to air defense.

Throughout his time in Dallas, Elliott's best work has often come in the second half. His physical style, coupled with the Cowboys' typically dominant offensive line, is especially brutal for opposing defenses later in games when fatigue sets in.

So yes, the formula was seemingly there for Zeke to break loose. As onlookers, we were as perplexed as I'm sure the Cowboys themselves were at the lack of success Elliott and the run game had as the night went on.

But at a certain point we saw the need to adjust strategy. And as Zeke kept getting repeatedly stymied by the Minnesota defense, the outcry on social media and in living rooms and sports bars got louder by the carry.

And yet the Cowboys wouldn't relent. They wouldn't admit defeat.


Then the final drive came, and despite Dak Prescott playing perhaps the best game of his career the Cowboys handed it to Zeke on 2nd down and 3rd down for -3 yards. He went nowhere or backwards, just like we'd seen most of the night.

And in the end, that stubbornness may have cost them the game.

Time for Jerry Jones to Play Hardball in Ezekiel Elliott Negotiations?

Cowboys Owner & General Manager Jerry Jones

What concerns me about that loss, and how it unfolded on offense, is that stubborn refusal to adjust strategy. Zeke never should've gotten to 20 carries given how poorly they all went; his longest of the night was only six yards. The run game clearly wasn't working, and leaning on it in those crucial final moments bordered on the cliche definition of insanity.

The concern is that Dallas feels the need to justify Zeke's contract so badly that it's going to distort offensive strategy. And if that does exist, it probably comes from up top.

Jerry Jones has done a lot of great, wonderful things in his ownership and management of the Dallas Cowboys. But it's perfectly fair to say that he allows ego to interfere with logic at times.

Jason Garrett has won way more games than he's lost since becoming Cowboys head coach. But he's prideful; Garrett often references personal and team pride in his public conversations. And he's also proudly loyal to traditional football methodology.

Stephen Jones and Will McClay have done awesome work in their increased handling of the Cowboys' football operations. But rest assured, they also have ego. McClay helped scout Zeke and all of these offensive linemen. Stephen had a huge part in negotiating their big contracts. Their reputations are also tied to the team's success.

I'm not saying that the Joneses or anyone else has handed down an edict on when and how Ezekiel Elliott should be used. I certainly don't think Jerry was in Kellen Moore's ear on Sunday night.

But decision making has many layers, some active and some passive. Even subconsciously, our choices in the heat of the moment are driven by many factors.

Kellen may have been trying to play chess against checkers, calling the run in the face of all logic in the hopes that it would catch Minnesota off guard. But maybe also in that decision was the thought that Zeke is the team's most proven offensive weapon, the reigning NFL rushing champion, and that Moore didn't want to be the guy who didn't give Elliott a chance to do his thing.

I may be grasping at straws here, but I'm just trying to find the logic behind what went down on Sunday night. Because even the more casual football fan could see that Dallas had decision-making disasters throughout that game.

Whatever caused the lapse in judgment, hopefully all involved learned their lesson.


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