You’ve heard a lot of talk this offseason about key Cowboys players who need new contracts. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has been discussed right there with Dak Prescott, Amari Coooper, and Byron Jones, but there are a few differences in their situations. Given these, I think Dallas should wait until next year to get Zeke’s new deal done.
The biggest difference is that Prescott, Cooper, and Jones will all be unrestricted free agents in 2020, but Elliott is already signed that year. Dallas made sure of this when they exercised their fifth-year option on Zeke’s rookie contract, which will pay him $9.1 million for that final season. He would then become a free agent in 2021.
Those new deals for the other guys, and especially Dak as a quarterback, will already put a huge dent in the Cowboys’ salary cap space for next year. Dallas will get a slight discount on Zeke at the $9 million over the market value for elite running backs, which is more like $13-$14 million these days. They need to enjoy it while they can.
But market value is another big reason why I’d wait. Again, let’s look at Prescott’s situation. The price tag at QB is always going up, and soon we’ll have guys like Jared Goff, Pat Mahomes, and Carson Wentz all looking for new contracts. Getting Dak’s extension done ASAP, before these other young stars raise the salary bar, is a wise move.
The running back market is different. The big stars of the position have already received their new deals; Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, and David Johnson. The next guy up is Elliott, with Saquon Barkley and perhaps Leonard Fournette and Alvin Kamara soon to follow. But those other three are all behind Elliott, having come into the league after he did.
There’s a window of time for the RB market to stay fairly stable, and the Cowboys should use that to their advantage.
Even though Stephen Jones recently affirmed the team’s desire to keep Elliott long term, he didn’t say when that deal would be done. Waiting until 2020 gives them more time to handle other business, plus it doesn’t put Zeke in a bad negotiating position.
Elliott will still be just 25 next year and, assumably, coming off another great season. He’s led the league in yards-per-game every year since entering the NFL in 2016 and there’s no reason to think that will stop now.
Waiting allows Dallas to benefit fully from the option year while not having to worry about other big contracts coming. Elliott is the guy who’s going to move the bar at running back; the deal that Barkley, Fournette, and all others will be using as the measuring stick in future seasons.
Rest assured, if Zeke keeps playing as he has then he will soon become the highest-paid RB in the NFL. But given these factors, there’s no reason for Dallas to push to do it now. They have enough on their plate already with other key players at expensive positions.
Nobody wants to see a situation between Elliott and the Cowboys like we saw the last few years between Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers. I’m not pushing for Dallas to be overly aggressive or insulting in how they handle this.
But waiting to take care of Zeke’s contract after Dak, Amari, and others just makes sense based on the calendar, if nothing else. They are the more immediate concerns thanks to their 2020 free agency; even Elliott’s camp will understand that.
So yes, Ezekiel Elliott deserves to get paid and I hope it’s by the Dallas Cowboys. But given these factors, I just hope they wait a little while longer to get it done.