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

John Williams



Ezekiel Elliott, Jerry Jones

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.

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.


Star Blog

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott Primed for Big Games vs Lions

Matthew Lenix



Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott Primed for Big Games vs Lions

The Dallas Cowboys were brought back down to earth this past Sunday in their 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. After dominating the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys got manhandled in the trenches on both offense and defense. Running Back Dalvin Cook had 183 all-purpose yards (97 rushing, 86 receiving) due to his offensive line opening holes bigger than the state of Texas. All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott, however, was held to just 47 yards on 20 carries because his offensive line got bullied from start to finish.

This coming Sunday, the Cowboys will be looking to bounce back against the Detroit Lions and maintain their position atop the NFC East. The Lions defense is one of the worst in the league vs the run and pass which sets up the Cowboys two biggest offensive stars, Dak Prescott and Elliott to have huge games.

Prescott is currently second in the NFL in passing yards, third in passing touchdowns, and first in QBR. He will get every opportunity to improve on those numbers this Sunday going up against Detroit's 28th ranked passing defense. They've allowed four quarterbacks to pass for over 300 yards, Prescott has three games with such production himself in 2019.

He will be bringing with him a very explosive receiving core. Amari Cooper is currently third in the NFL in receiving yards with 848. He's coming off a game in which he had his second-highest yardage total (147) and tied his highest reception total (11) in any game this season. Michael Gallup has already equaled his reception total and surpassed both his yardage and touchdown totals from his rookie season in 2018. Randall Cobb had his best game by far as a Cowboy with six receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown vs the Vikings.

With Prescott playing at a high level, his receiving core more together than ever, and facing the leagues 30th ranked defense I smell another big game for number 4.

Elliott had his second-worst game of the season vs the Vikings after three consecutive 100-yard performances. The chances of him bouncing back in this game are very high considering the Lions rank 26th vs the run. Seven of the nine teams the Lions have faced have rushed for over 100 yards, including three individual performances over the century mark.

The two-time rushing champion is tied for the second-most games over 100 yards this season with five, trailing only Carolina's Christian McCaffrey who has six. Also, the Cowboys offensive line will be looking to bounce back themselves after the Vikings defensive front took them to the woodshed this past Sunday. I wouldn't at all be surprised if Elliott has one of his biggest performances of the season after such a pedestrian outing last week. Also, having a motivated offensive line blocking for him doesn't hurt either.

The Cowboy's best formula for success is still establishing Elliott early to set up Prescott and the play-action passing game.

With the NFC East still firmly up for grabs, the Cowboys have minimal room for error for this rest of the season. Going up against a defense this bad could be just what the doctor ordered for Prescott and Elliott to dominate on the road. If this were to come to pass, the Cowboys chances at improving to 6-4 this Sunday will be extremely high.

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Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Red Zone Liability?

Brian Martin



Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Redzone Liability?

Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is arguably as talented as just about any defensive back in the NFL. He still young and has quite a bit he can do to improve his game, but there's no denying his talent. One of the things he may need to work on right now is his awareness and discipline in the red zone.

In back to back games No. 24 has been caught out of position and as a result surrendered points in the end zone. Just this last Sunday he gave up a two point conversion to Minnesota Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph. The week prior he gave up a touchdown catch to New York Giants Wide Receiver Cody Latimer.

Does this make him a liability in the red zone?

I know if I've noticed Chidobe Awuzie getting victimized in back to back weeks in the red zone opposing offensive coordinators around the league have done the same. As a result, they're going to test Awuzie to find out if they can have the same kind of success.

Chidobe Awuzie

Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie

If I'm Kris Richard I'm personally going to be working on making sure Chidobe is fully aware he needs to be more disciplined with his play, especially in the red zone. He's been caught out of position in back to back games and that can't be something that continues from here on out.

I'm sure Awuzie would tell you himself this is something he needs to clean up. He takes pride in his abilities and knows he can still improve. Hopefully he can take it to heart and better prepare for what's to come. Whether that means just executing his assignments better or maybe studying a little more film. It's up to him to figure out what he needs to do.

As far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned though, they may need to start giving him a little more help over the top if this is something that continues. And if worse comes to worse, they can always see if Jourdan Lewis or Anthony Brown can be more consistent. I doubt it would come to that, but it is an option.

I for one am hoping No. 24 will just hunker down and figure out what he needs to do in order to take his game to the next level. If he can do that the Cowboys defense will be much better for it. I don't know about you, but I will be keeping a close eye on him for the rest of the season.

Do you think CB Chidobe Awuzie has become a red zone liability?

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Star Blog

Maliek Collins has a Breakout Opportunity Against the Minnesota Vikings

John Williams



Cowboys DT's Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods Primed for Monster Seasons

It's been a quiet 2019 for one of the Dallas Cowboys' preseason breakout candidates, Maliek Collins. Heading into training camp, and then the regular season, Collins was the healthiest he'd been at any point in his previous three seasons. That combined with another year in the NFL, led many to believe that Collins could become a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Collins has been good, but perhaps not as productive as many might have predicted.

On the year, Maliek Collins has three sacks, which is third for the Dallas Cowboys behind Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Per Pro Football Focus, Collins is tied for 17th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Tied for 17th might not sound very good, but when the league leader in sacks among interior defensive linemen has just six, Collins isn't far off from threatening for the league lead. In fact, Maliek Collins is tied with All-Pro Defensive Tackles Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones, and Geno Atkins in sacks.

In total pressures, Collins is tied for eighth in the NFL per Pro Football Focus with 27 along with Quentin Jefferson and Vita Vea.

Though he's not racking up a ton of tackle this season, Collins has been excellent as a pass rusher. On Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, he'll have a tremendous opportunity to build on his first-half numbers.

Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, Collins has an enormous opportunity. Among quarterbacks with at least 196 drop backs, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been under pressure at the fourth highest rate in the NFL. His 40.8% pressure rate is only better than Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, and Sam Darnold.

Vikings Guard Pat Elflein has allowed five sacks on the year, which is tied for the third most in the NFL this season among interior offensive linemen and his 20 pressures allowed is tied for eighth. When Maliek Collins gets an opportunity to line up across from Elflein, he's going to have a chance to get home.

With teams having to pay so much attention to DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and newcomer Michael Bennett, Collins should be freed up to face more one-on-one blockers.

Collins hasn't had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn't necessarily been the dominant player we thought he could be after his strong preseason. That perception could change when the Dallas Cowboys play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football. The opportunity is there for Collins, he just has to seize it.

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