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Ezekiel Elliott is Clearly Entering a Make-or-Break Season

Most signs point to 2022 as a make-or-break season for Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and his future in Dallas. While the team has expressed loyalty toward Zeke in some comments, the are clearly leaving their options open.

One of the clearest signs that a team is considering moving on, especially given Dallas’ modern , is when they avoid restructuring the player’s contract. The Cowboys have left Elliott’s $18.2 million cap hit untouched despite having four years left on the deal to move money around.

This wasn’t the case with QB or G . Dallas was happy to restructure their contracts in March, feeling secure in their long-term futures. The fact that Elliott’s deal was not altered was an indirect statement about his job security.

Remember, a means converting a player’s base salary in the current year into a bonus. This lowers his cap hit for the season but increases the “dead money” in future years of the deal. The team gets more cap space in the present but loses flexibility down the road if they want to or the player.

By not restructuring deals on big names like Elliott or this year, Dallas is basically saying that they want to preserve the ability to release them in 2023. As currently structured, Zeke’s deal offers about $5 million as an outright cut and $11 million if released after June 1st next year.

The best recent example of this was with former WR , who despite a huge cap in 2017 was not restructured as his play and health were starting to decline. Sure enough, Bryant was released the following April. While many were shocked by receiver’s departure, others had seen the writing on the wall a year earlier.

If the Cowboys do release Ezekiel Elliott next spring it likely won’t be as surprising. His declining performance, while still good enough for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021, has brought his contract question for the last two years. Many believe Dallas could get the same production for a fraction of the price.

Currently unable to move on from Zeke without a massive spike in his 2022 cap number, Dallas has no choice right now but to express support for their star runner. But if Elliott doesn’t get back to past form then the team may start singing a very different tune.

Make no mistake; Elliott’s contract would’ve been restructured along with Prescott’s and Martin’s if the team was entirely confident in him.

The Cowboys can say anything they want to the media but actions speak louder. Ezekiel Elliott is clearly playing for his job in 2022 and hopefully that, plus a healthy knee, will help him to get back to franchise-level performance.

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

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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4 Comments

  1. I’m so tired of hearing that Zeke isn’t an elite back or Pollard should be rb1. Do you honestly think that Pollard could be an every down back, do you think he could block even half as well as Zeke does? Look at Zekes ypc last season before the knee injury, it was the highest of his career. Pollard has good ypc because he’d break off a long run every once in a while but does that offset the 15 or 20 rushes for 2 or 3 yards.

    • Zeke has elite skills, but its been quite awhile since he’s had elite production … there’s a number of reasons for this, but he is one of them.

      Its’ been my argument that this team has got the RB-by-Committee approach backwards right now. Pollard should be the 1st and 2nd down back and Zeke should be the change-of-pace RB. This puts your most explosive RB on the field where the playbook is wide open and limits his need to be a blocker of Zeke’s capability. Additionally, it puts Zeke in his wheelhouse where he serves as the power/short yardage back, or the blocking back, or even the recipient of screen passes. IMO this team would be better served using this approach instead of just occasionally “spelling” Zeke with Pollard.

      Pollard is very clearly being under-utilized. And this crud about his playing WR and out wide, and being motioned about, etc is all a bunch of you-know-what … they do this every year at this time of year and it amounts to zilch.

      Oh, and if the argument for your starting RB is that he is an elite blocker, then I’d argue that your are passing too much.

  2. Zeke always hit line full speed, hole or not, I always loved that about him. Last season was not his best and rb’s have short shelf life. He ran w/ knee brace on which wax crazy but he did o.k. Let’s see how Zeke recovers. Remember Zeke blocks well and catches the ball well. With an improved Oline and a speed boost due to recovery from injury, Zeke may prove invaluable to Dallas.

  3. Zeke hasn’t been at the franchise level of performance since he signed his contract. If, per chance, Zeke does exceptionally well this year, trade him for whatever you can get for him, (which int’s much still yet). Otherwise, cut the contract! Either way, he SHOULD NOT be a Cowboy in 2023…except for a huge reduction in salary, which I doubt he will agree to.

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