There has been a lot of speculation on potential new homes for former Dallas Cowboys running back, and current free agent, Ezekiel Elliott. So far, there hasn't been enough expressed mutual interest to determine his next landing spot.
Sometimes, in speculative writings on the topic, the possibility of Elliott remaining unsigned is passively mentioned. In my opinion, not enough time has been spent exploring that possibility.
It's not likely that Ezekiel Elliott will be left without a team at all in 2023. It's not entirely impossible, though, either. And honestly, if he ends up sitting out for a season, the time off the field could work to his advantage.
My perspective on this is based on the assumption that Zeke intends to play beyond the 2023 season. In that case, in order to ensure availability and production in the future, a year off for rest and thorough rehab would be beneficial.
Ezekiel Elliott has suffered a number of injuries to his lower extremities throughout his career. Since 2021, he's dealt with a number of serious injuries to his right knee specifically.
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD
The seriousness of Zeke's injuries is doubted by some people because of the fact that he wasn't ruled out for the amount of time expected for a running back dealing with serious knee injuries.
Because Zeke continued to play, for the most part, one can assume that his injuries were mishandled or mismanaged. It doesn't mean the injuries weren't serious.
The knee is the largest and most complex joint in the human body. An intricate system of tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bones allows the knee to properly flex and extend.
Damage to any component of the knee, especially its tendons and ligaments, can cause physical stress and improper function of its other components. In other words, a knee injury that does not properly and completely heal can increase the likelihood of suffering future injuries.
Not only is the likelihood of injury to the knee increased, but there is a higher chance of pain, discomfort, or injury to hips and ankles as well.
In the case of Ezekiel Elliott, subsequent injuries became more frequent and severe.
OCTOBER 2021 – KNEE STRAIN
In October of 2021, Ezekiel Elliott was diagnosed with a knee strain ahead of Week 5. For a mild knee strain, recovery time is usually 1-2 weeks. A moderate knee strain can take 3-6 weeks to recover.
Elliott did not miss any games at all with this injury. Even a couple of weeks on the sidelines could have been advantageous. Several weeks later, he suffered another injury to the same knee.
NOVEMBER 2021 – KNEE CONTUSION
This injury, suffered during Week 9 of 2021, has been described as a contusion or bone bruise. Elliott left that game against the Broncos, but to the surprise of many, he returned in the second half and finished the game.
Recovery of a bruised knee usually takes 2-4 weeks. Again, Elliott opted not to miss any games due to his knee injury. He suffered his worst injury of the season just a few weeks later.
NOVEMBER 2021 – PCL TEAR
During the Cowboys' Week 11 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Ezekiel Elliott briefly left the game, once again, due to an injury to his right knee.
It was clear to most observers that the injury was affecting him. He was slower and had a visible limp. He finished that game, however, and played in every game for the remainder of the season.
Although Zeke initially wrote off the injury as just an aggravation of his previous injury, it turned out later that he had actually suffered and played through a partially torn PCL.
I couldn't help but wonder what difference might have been made had he properly recovered from his previous injuries.
Since he never took continuous time off after the strain or the contusion, it's possible he never completely recovered from them.
Playing through a knee injury increases the likelihood of compensations and other issues like patellar instability and improper mechanics. When playing a sport that requires fast, high intensity movement, and even contact with other players, this can lead to additional or more substantial injuries in the future.
It's impossible to say with any certainty what injuries would or would not have occurred if Zeke had taken some games off. But what we do know is that his performance in the later part of 2021 was impacted.
Before the knee strain, Ezekiel Elliott was averaging 90.4 yards per game. For the last 12 games of the season, that number dropped to 45.8 yards per game.
Since Elliott decided not to have surgery and started wearing a brace later in the season, it can be assumed that the injury was a grade 2 PCL tear.
Recent studies show that athletes can return to sports after 3-4 months of rehabilitation from such an injury. But some sources say it could take 6-9 months of conservative treatment to return to pre-injury levels of performance.
So, when Zeke said he was back to 100% by the time OTAs rolled around, four months after the Cowboys' season ended, there's a chance he wasn't actually quite there yet in terms of athletic contributions to the team.
OCTOBER 2022 – GRADE 2 MCL SPRAIN
It was late July of 2022 when Ezekiel Elliott said he was back to 100% during OTAs which took place that May. But in practically the same breath, he admitted, “This thing still feels a little iffy,” referring to his right knee.
Infer what you will from that statement, but it was only a few months later that Ezekiel Elliott suffered an MCL sprain. He played through it on Week 7 but then missed the following two games.
EZEKIEL ELLIOTT'S CURRENT STATUS
Currently, Draft Sharks predicts an 82% chance of injury for Ezekiel Elliott should he play during the 2023 season. Those odds, his injury history, and his declining production are reasons any team might hesitate to add him to their roster.
There has even been speculation that he could end up returning as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Fans want to see Elliott play and have a productive career, but sometimes what's best for an athlete in the long term means making a sacrifice in the short term.
It makes sense that players would be hesitant to take a year off. Look at the situation of Odell Beckham, Jr. Even someone with his reputation as an elite receiver and playmaker seems to be having trouble finding a satisfactory offer since he took a year off after his second ACL injury.
THEY WANT THE OLD ZEKE BACK
But the truth is, if a player is on a successful team that makes it into the postseason and they also prepare themselves to be present for OTAs and off-season workouts, that timeline does not allow for the recommended 6-9 months an elite athlete should use to focus on returning to pre-injury levels of performance.
If we ever want to see anything close to the old Zeke back on the field, taking a season off could be the best thing for him. Hopefully, some day soon, the decision makers in the front offices of NFL teams will recognize this extended time off as added value for a player instead of a caution sign.
Muscles build and recover during periods of rest, not while they're being worked, stressed, and used regular for high intensity activities. If Ezekiel Elliott does not play in 2023, and he uses that time to go through a thorough rehab program, whatever team is lucky enough to snag him for 2024 may have found themselves a gem.