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Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott Saga: How Did We Get Here?

Today by 4 pm, the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL will have to trim their rosters down to 53 players. It’s unlikely that we’ll see any surprise cuts made today, but as week one approaches, one of the biggest names on the team is unlikely to be with the Dallas Cowboys when they begin preparations for their week one matchup with the New York Giants; Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.

Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys are in the midst of a stand-off that started in the early stages of the offseason and has now lasted the entirety of training camp as Elliott seeks to become the highest-paid running back in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys, though they’ve made it clear they want to extend Elliott are attempting to be wise with how they allocate money to their star running back.

Over the past several months, the two sides have given not so subtle hints at what each is attempting to accomplish in a contract extension for Elliott. At this point, the two sides are still are far enough apart that the lack of a deal is going to keep Ezekiel Elliott from playing in week one. The longer it takes the Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott to come to an agreement on a contract extension, the more contentious these negotiations appear to be getting; at least in public.

Part of what could be stalling negotiations is perhaps the change in attitude the Dallas Cowboys have had toward paying Ezekiel Elliott top of the market money.

Back in February, Stephen Jones told Jon Machota — now of The Athletic — that the contract extension Todd Gurley received in the 2018 offseason would be a factor in the negotiations with Elliott.

“We’ve got it budgeted that we’re going to pay Zeke a significant contract at some point. We certainly saw what Gurley got paid and we know that’s probably where it starts, and we’ll go from there.”

Stephen Jones via Jon Machota of The Athletic

Perhaps Stephen Jones was speaking out of turn or perhaps he anticipated the contract negotiations really heating up in the 2020 offseason when Elliott would have just one more season on his rookie contract. Either way, that quote likely created some expectation that the Dallas Cowboys were prepared to pony up big money for Ezekiel Elliott’s new contract extension.

But even in early May in an interview with Pro Football Talk, Stephen Jones doubled-down on the idea of locking up Elliott when he said, “He’s the straw, if you will, that stirs our drink. He’s a key part of what we’re about.” Jones went on to say, “he’s a priority in terms of ultimately getting him signed.”

As training camp approached the front office and coaching staff was under the impression that Elliott was going to be joining the team in Oxnard when they opened training camp, even as reports began to surface that Elliott was planning on holding out. Even at the opening press conference, Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Jason Garrett weren’t alarmed by the fact that Elliott had yet to report to camp and instead reiterated that he wouldn’t officially be late until the next day when players had to report for physicals.

Now, whether that was them attempting to maintain their relationship with Ezekiel Elliott by not throwing him under the bus in a press conference covered by every major media outlet or that they actually expected him to be available at the start of training camp, the Cowboys brass gave no indication that a holdout was looming. They weren’t alarmed by the fact that Elliott hadn’t reported yet and sounded optimistic that the front office and Elliott’s representatives would be able to work things out and get him into training camp. But, obviously, that hasn’t happened.

In August, with training camp a little over a week underway, there was a bit of a heel turn when Stephen Jones attempted to walk back his comments from February. Jones was now saying Le’Veon Bell’s new contract with the New York Jets is what set the running back market, not Gurley’s record-setting deal. He added when speaking with 105.3 The Fan then, that they felt their offer was “very generous.” Of course what the front office considers generous and what the player considers generous is certainly in the eye of the beholder.

Having heard Stephen Jones say that Gurley was the starting point for Elliott’s contract and then bringing it down to Bell’s deal, it’s easy to see how that could create some confusion and perhaps frustration on Elliott’s side of things. If you’ve ever been in a negotiation with someone who tells you one price that you’re content paying and then comes back to you later to change the price, it’s frustrating.

That’s exactly how Andy Bernard lost the Scranton White Pages. 

After making it public that Gurley was the starting point in Ezekiel Elliott’s negotiations, I’m sure Elliott and his representatives thought it would mean Elliott would become the highest-paid running back in the NFL. At least that could have been their understanding of where negotiations were heading. Then in August, with Elliott’s holdout already more than a week in, Stephen Jones was telling another story. If I were Elliott and his representatives, I’d be frustrated as well after hearing Stephen Jones come at the negotiations from a totally different perspective.

Since Stephen Jones’ comments about where the market should be for Ezekiel Elliott’s contract extension in early August, the Cowboys have gradually increased their offers to Elliott. On August 22nd, it was reported by Ed Werder of ESPN that the Dallas Cowboys had made Elliott an offer that was more than Le’Veon Bell’s but not quite as rich as Todd Gurley’s. The offer would make Ezekiel Elliott the second-highest-paid running back in the NFL.

Ed Werder on Twitter

Sources: The most recent offer in negotiations between holdout Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys came from the team. Elliott has been offered a contract making him one of the NFL’s 2 highest-paid RB. That would suggest team offering more than LeVeon Bell and less than Todd Gurley.

There’s no telling exactly where the two sides are at this point with Stephen Jones stating they aren’t close to getting a deal done because “there’s not a lot of activity.” Of course, Jones also admits that contracts can be finalized pretty quickly when both sides are communicating and motivated enough to get something done.

The lack of movement on a deal might have led to some frustration out of Elliott’s camp when Jaylon Smith received his contract extension last week. NFL Hall of Famer and former TV Analyst Marshall Faulk — who’s been working out with Ezekiel Elliott in Cabo — shared some hot takes after the Dallas Cowboys announced a contract extension with Jaylon Smith.

Appearing on the Dan Patrick Show, Marshall Faulk had this to say:

“If you think about this. And I’m not counting another man’s money. But if you think about what Jaylon Smith did and what he got compared to to what Zeke has done and what he’s asking for… it’s not even close. It’s not even close! They drafted a linebacker in the first round last year. If they thought so much of Jaylon, I mean you draft another linebacker in the first round?”

Marshall Faulk on the Dan Patrick Show via RJ Ochoa

Faulk then proclaimed that after Dak Prescott gets his contract that he’ll be a “bum.”

It’s hard to say what Faulk or Elliott’s camp was hoping to gain from the media storm that the former NFL running back created earlier this week, but whatever it was likely didn’t endear Elliott to Cowboys’ fans or his teammates. Aside from Marshall Faulk’s obviously flawed logic with regard to the Dallas Cowboys’ rationale for drafting Leighton Vander Esch, it seems bad for business and bad for a Elliott’s relationships with teammates for someone close to Elliott to say the things Faulk said. Whenever Elliott does join the team, it’s reasonable to wonder how much the nature of these comments — and the holdout — will affect how Elliott is viewed in the locker room.

Ezekiel Elliott’s goal all along has been to come out of these negotiations with the richest running back contract in the NFL history. In order to accomplish that goal, he looks prepared to miss games to prove that point.

Ed Werder on Twitter

I asked @marshallfaulk whether he believes @EzekielElliott is willing to miss games in effort to become #NFL’s highest-paid running back. Faulk: “The question is, are the Cowboys willing to have him miss games because they don’t believe he should be the highest paid RB?

While the average annual salary is one of the numbers the two sides are looking at, it’s most likely the guaranteed money that is the sticking point (as it typically is in the NFL where contracts aren’t 100% guaranteed). Whatever it is, it doesn’t appear that a resolution is coming soon as the two sides continue to work the media to assert pressure in the negotiations.

Jerry Jones speaking to Ben and Skin on 105.3 The Fan yesterday admitted he expects Ezekiel Elliott to miss some games. Jones comments make it highly unlikely Elliott suits up for the Dallas Cowboys’ week one contest against the New York Giants. It’s not unreasonable to think he sits out several games to start the season. How many games quickly becomes the question?

While there’s obvious interest from both sides to get a deal done, the Dallas Cowboys are preparing for life without Ezekiel Elliott. Because of course, they are. They have a game to get ready for in eight days and the New York Giants don’t care if Ezekiel Elliott is on the field or not. They’re out there to try and beat whatever iteration of the Dallas Cowboys happens to show up next Sunday. In a next-man-up world, the Dallas Cowboys have to be ready to roll with Tony Pollard as their starting running back in the event the Dallas Cowboys and Elliott haven’t reached a contract resolution by then.

Jerry Jones put it this way when talking to Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan on Friday:

Zeke is an outstanding player, and arguably right there with our best players. But no on egives up in any way, especially with the talented group that we have… No one without one player believes that’s terminal as far as us having a great year. As a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite. Don’t tellJason Witten that if somebody gets hurt or somebody get suspended that our chances of winning a Super Bowl have gone.”

Jerry Jones on 105.3 The Fan on the Ben and Skin Show

Jones goes on to make the point that you don’t have to have the NFL’s leading rusher to win a Super Bowl and that they haven’t won one with Elliott in the first three years of his career.

Ezekiel Elliott missing games is by no means the end of the story. As Ian Rapoport, of NFL Network, reported yesterday, the Dallas Cowboys front office is still working to get a deal done with Ezekiel Elliott’s representatives behind the scenes. However, missing games will leave a bad taste in the mouths of fans and teammates, especially if the Cowboys struggle out of the gate. It’s also a bit risky on his part. If Tony Pollard walks in and is as good as he’s been in the preseason and is able to show consistency in pass protection, it could allow the Dallas Cowboys front office to hold the line in contract negotiations forcing Elliott’s side to come down to their number.

Though this story is getting a ton of coverage, and some would argue too much, it’s a story that’s far from over. Until the Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott come to an agreement, sit on a podium together to announce the contract extension, and Elliott straps up his helmet for his first action of the 2019 season, this is going to be a story that continues to play out in the media and likely every day.

For the sake of the rest of the team, hopefully it’s not a question they’ll have to answer much longer. With week one of the NFL season about to start, the real pressure gets placed on both sides. Elliott will be foregoing game checks and the Dallas Cowboys will be without their two-time NFL rushing champion.

In high-level negotiations like these, more often than not, it comes down to who blinks first. With as confident as both sides feel in their position, this holdout will extend longer than anyone hopes it would. Though things look a bit ominous right now, on the bright side, whatever games Elliott misses, that’s 20-25 touches of wear and tear that he won’t have to endure. After not participating in training camp or the preseason, whenever Ezekiel Elliott gets back to the business of playing football, he’ll be as fresh as your best night’s sleep.

At some point, this deal will get done and when it is, the Dallas Cowboys will be a better team with Elliott than without. For a team that has grand expectations for the 2019 season, you can’t have too many good players and as Jerry Jones said, Elliott’s one of the best the Dallas Cowboys have.

Ep 10: Talking 53-Man Roster and Contracts with Jon Machota of The Athletic by Inside The Cowboys

In this episode of Inside The Cowboys, John is joined by Dallas Cowboys Writer for The Athletic, Jon Machota to talk about the recent developments with the 53-man roster and the contract negoatiations with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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