In an interview yesterday from the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp, Owner Jerry Jones made a big statement concerning Ezekiel Elliott’s value to the team. But Jerry also omitted a critical detail that undercuts his argument.
The key words in all that Jerry said were:
“You don’t have to have a rushing champion to win a Super Bowl.”
This comment is entirely accurate based on NFL history. Jones accurately pointed out that Emmitt Smith was the first regular-season rushing champion to go on to win a Super Bowl in 1992. Emmitt would repeat that accomplishment in 1993 and 1995 as well.
Other than Smith’s three championships, the only other RB to ever lead the league in rushing and win a Super Bowl in the same season was Terrell Davis with the 1998 Denver Broncos.
We all remember how Barry Sanders languished in Detroit throughout his career; a four-time rushing champion who missed the playoffs in two of those years and lost in the first round in the others. Household RB names like LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson also never played in a Super Bowl.
In 2019, the reality of Jerry Jones’ comment is as strong as it’s ever been. The passing game has taken over the league, with top quarterbacks making more than double what the top running backs earn. Back in the 90s, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith were making nearly identical money.
But while Jerry is accurate about how Super Bowl champions haven’t needed rushing champions, he left out a key component that almost all of those teams had.
Most of those teams didn’t need an elite running back because they had an elite quarterback.
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson have been the quarterback for 13 of the last 18 Super Bowl champions. It’s also worth nothing that, in most of those years, an elite QB was on the losing side of that final game as well.
There are a few outliers. The 2002 Buccaneers had Brad Johnson driving the bus for a legendary defense and the Warrick Dunn-Mike Alstott rushing duo. And even though we wouldn’t consider Eli Manning (2007, 2011), Joe Flacco (2012), or Nick Foles (2017) as elite passers overall, they all got hot at the right time and were playing on that level in their postseason runs.
The Dallas Cowboys don’t have an elite quarterback yet. They have Dak Prescott, who so far has proven he can be a guy who gets you to the playoffs and will hopefully go on one of those hot streaks.
What’s more, the Cowboys haven’t proven that their offense can produce a solid rushing attack without a top talent back there. Alfred Morris struggled and Rod Smith was merely adequate when Elliott missed games in 2017.
So sure, it’s easy for Jerry to point at the history books and how Super Bowl champions haven’t needed a running back like Ezekiel Elliott.
But over the last three years, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys haven’t proven that THEY can win a title without Zeke.
I understand the fiscal dilemma that the Cowboys face with Elliott’s contract and the salary cap. We just outlined how the passing game rules in the modern NFL, which naturally makes Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, pass protectors, and pass rushers, and pass defenders the most important guys to acquire and keep for a football team.
But what the Patriots have enjoyed for all these Brady years is a QB who can turn unorthodox and unheralded offensive weapons into winners. He gets the ball out faster than most pass rushers can get to him, and manages the game to help his own defense. Tom Brady is the rising tide that lifts everyone on that team.
Dak Prescott is a terrific leader and an underrated player, but he’s no Brady. And if we’re being honest, he’s no Brees, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, or Wilson at this point either.
The problem for Jerry Jones is that, right now, Prescott is the best option for the Dallas Cowboys at QB. He may never be on the level of those guys we mentioned, but Dallas can’t risk trying to find someone better in the draft and lose the championship window they currently have.
Dak is good enough to win a Super Bowl. But he’s probably not good enough to do it without Ezekiel Elliott.
That is the current reality for Dallas and the other side of Super Bowl history that Jerry neglected to mention.
And you can be sure that Elliott’s team won’t forget them in their discussions with the Cowboys front office.