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Ezekiel Elliott’s return hinges on accepting huge pay cut

Its been roughly two months since the Cowboys parted ways with . At the time it seemed like a permanent divorce. Surely one of the other 31 teams would sign him, right?

Wrong. Elliott remains a and even the teams he said he wanted to play for have all but shot down the idea of signing him. Looking around the NFL, there really doesn't seem to be a team in need of his services.

So, is a return to Dallas out of the question? The NFL's all-time leading rusher doesn't think so.

No. 22 Wants A Second Chance For No. 21

has been lobbying for the Cowboys to re-sign Elliott. Smith sat down with CBS Sports and made the case for bringing Elliott back.

“I was extremely disappointed that they allowed Zeke to leave,” Smith said. “Because of the to , I thought they would keep both of those guys back there and would have been able to give them some time to see how Pollard bounced back.”

The best Cowboys running back
Emmitt Smith eludes the of Tyronne Stowe during the ' 16-10 victory over the Phoenix Cardinals on Nov. 22, 1992 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ. Photo by Richard Paolinelli.

Pollard suffered a broken fibula in the playoff loss to San Francisco in January and is reportedly on target to return for the . How he rebounds from the injury is of obvious concern. It was a primary reason why Dallas signed II in .

But, assuming Elliott doesn't sign on elsewhere, it isn't as simple as just bringing him back. Money was the reason why Elliott was cut. It will be the main driver on if he'll return.

Would A Million Be Enough?

, the Cowboys' former running backs coach who is in Tampa Bay now, thinks Elliott will need to lower his salary expectations. The former pick was due to make around $17 million in 2023. But the Cowboys could not afford to pay him and Pollard.

One of them had to go and Elliott drew the short straw. As for how much he should expect to sign for, given the bearish market for veteran running backs, Peete is thinking low seven figures. Very low. But he also thinks Elliott still has something to offer.

Skip Peete
Dallas Cowboys RB Coach Skip Peete (Howard Smith- Sports)

“I think he would be good in any situation,” said Peete during an interview with “I'm not sure exactly how the dynamic of explaining to him, like I told him, ‘You're going to play for a million dollars.' So who's going to be the one to tell him that? I think that's part of the reason he's [still] sitting out there. If you're going to play, and you're going to be the second or third guy, that's kind of what the price is. That's something that a person has to make a decision on, if that's what they want to do.”

Is There A Place For Elliott In Dallas?

Assuming Elliott would sign for a much lesser amount, would he want to be the third-stringer for a team he used to be the bell cow for? Pollard is clearly the starter. Jones will be the primary backup with plowing the way at for both. will get some touches in a -type role.

So where would Elliott fit in? How many touches would he get? How many plays would he see in a game? He certainly wouldn't be playing ever again after the fiasco that turned out to be the final play of the .

Ezekiel Elliott vs The World: Fans and media speak on Elliott's future

Assuming an injury elsewhere doesn't create an opening for Elliott, and he decides to play for a much lower salary in Dallas, a million might be all he'll command. He could sign for a year, hope to put in enough work to impress another team, and restart his career elsewhere for more money.

He has very few options right now. Signing with another team at this point seems unlikely. Coming back to Dallas and playing for one year for a million or so only less so. His third option might be his best.

Take this year off. Get fully healthy. Then come back in 2024 and see if he has anything left in the tank.

Richard Paolinelli
Richard Paolinelli
Richard has covered sports at all levels - from local, prep, college, and professional - since 1984. He has been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys since 1969. Since retiring as a full-time sports writer in 2013, he has written and published several novels, two dozen short stories and two sports non-fiction books.

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