There have been a lot of fan comments this offseason suggesting that Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has to have a strong 2021 season if he doesn’t want to get released next year. I just wanted to take a few minutes today to help some of you understand that Zeke’s job security isn’t nearly a precarious as you may believe.
We’re only entering the third year of the big contract that Elliott received prior to the 2019 season. If that wasn’t prohibitive enough, Dallas did a modest restructuring on the deal in 2020 to free up cap space. This increased Zeke’s guaranteed money in future years and decreased the potential cap gains in cutting him.
As of right now, Elliott’s schedule cap hit for 2022 is $16.5 million. There will still be $23.2 million in dead money against the contract next year.
That means Dallas would actually lose an additional $6.7 million in cap space if they released Zeke outright. Making him a June-1st cut won’t help much either; $16.5 dead money in 2022 and then $6.7 deferred to 2023.
In other words, Dallas can’t get any cap relief if they move on from Elliott in 2022. Plus, they would have roughly around 10% of their salary cap tied up in someone who isn’t even on the roster.
Say what you want about Zeke underperforming his contract or the wisdom of paying any running back that kind of money in the modern era. There’s validity to those arguments, but what use are they? If you see Elliott’s contract as a mistake then it’s one that’s already been made.
The only way that Elliott gets cut in 2022 is if he’s a toxic presence in the locker room, something which has never been indicated in his five seasons thus far. While issues from his personal life have created headaches for the front office at times, Zeke’s never appeared anything less than a positive influence on the team as a whole.
Absolutely, we want to see improved production from Elliott in 2021 and beyond. Though 2020 was his worst season so far in the NFL, it was also the one where he had the most to overcome with offense hobbled all around him. Hopefully getting Dak, Zack, and others back will make a huge difference this season.
But even if it doesn’t, you’ve got to understand that there’s little Dallas can and will do about it in 2022. Until the dead money ($6.7m) drops well below the cap hit ($15m) in 2023, releasing Elliott serves no real purpose.
Sorry to those of you already foaming out the mouth to move on Ezekiel Elliott. Barring the most extreme of circumstances, it ain’t happening anytime soon.