Ezekiel Elliott may have his last stand with the Cowboys due to his bloated contract

Oxnard, California — Ever since Dallas Cowboys Put signature on Ezekiel Elliot As one of the worst running contracts in recent history, it felt like a clock was ticking when he left.

It set up Goonj, a training camp on Wednesday, which has a familiar story from a year ago. Something like this: What can this team expect out of Ezekiel Elliott this season, and how long can he wait to live up to his elite salary?

Last season’s reply was promising early on, until Elliott suffered a partially torn PCL in Week 4, which eventually turned into a disappointing drop in the remaining three months of the schedule. Elliott remained on the field due to injury, but he looked nothing close to his best level of play.

The result was an off-season amplification of two questions that were destined to weigh on Elliott when he signed his Six-year, $90 million expansion in 2019: How long can Elliot run after an aristocrat, and when does that answer come at the crossroads with his salary?

For some, that intersection is already here. And the result has been a training camp where it’s fair to question whether 2022 is the beginning of the end of his time in Dallas, a point he’s not contemplating despite the questions circling around him.

“I think it’s a big season, but you can’t look too far down the road,” Elliot said of his future. “I find that if I focus on every day, if I focus on a good day of camp, if I focus on taking it week after week, I feel everything by itself. And I don’t think there’s really any reason to look so far down the road. I think I’ll be in pretty good shape at the end of the season if I manage my business every day.”

The Dallas Cowboys, who run back Ezekiel Elliott, have struggled to extend their contract since signing in 2019.  (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Dallas Cowboys, who run back Ezekiel Elliott, have struggled to extend their contract since signing in 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Will Zeke face the same fate as other big-money RBs?

Regardless of whether he’s thinking about it or not, the justification for questioning Elliot’s deal won’t go away any time soon. Partly because the Cowboys have another running back in Tony Pollard, who has shown great playing ability at times in more limited use. Also because Elliott’s contract was set up for scrutiny from the start, thanks to elite ongoing deals turning into franchise warts. It began with the continuing backdrop of the Todd Gurley debacle with the Los Angeles Rams – That turned a four-year, $60 million expansion into an unforgettable disaster for the franchise,

It didn’t stop there, essentially all of Elliot’s other high-paid RB contemporaries were struggling to live up to their deals. To date, the Carolina Panthers have failed to make a comeback on Christian McCaffrey’s four-year, $64 million extension. Behind this, the Arizona Cardinals began trying to leave after signing David Johnson’s three-year, $39 million extension for one season. Even Alvin Kamara’s five-year $75 million extension from the 2020 season is already on the edge of some criticism, given his health issues in 2021 and a Off-field incident that could cost him suspension this season,

All have been a story supporting an ideology that has taken strong roots across the league. One who suggests running a back window should either be confined to their rookie deals, then approached in detail by running a hard deal and structuring a contract with an easy exit.

Dallas didn’t do the same to Elliott, much to the chagrin of a fan base that has grown frustrated with a player whose best output came in his first four seasons and then faded after 2019. Now he enters 2022 with back-to-back looks. Injured or ineffective playing season and with Pollard pushing for more touch in the backfield.

Some of the circumstances surrounding Elliott didn’t help at times, such as Duck Prescott’s season-ending injury in 2020 and the subsequent offensive line implant. Elliott also played through a PCL injury last season, during which he could lock himself to a stretch instead of grinding whatever he could while playing the thankless role of a top-shelf blocker in the backfield. was.

Contract will complicate Dallas decision

Just being available isn’t going to change the reality of expectations this season, when Elliot is entering a “bounce-back or again” measuring stick. At least, that’s what it looks like. It’s worth noting that their economics are not as simple this season as they will be a year from now.

While the next season of Elliot’s potential release has already gained traction before entering this camp, the numbers aren’t as cut and dry as it seems. Yes, he has a non-guaranteed base salary of $10.9 million in 2023. But he also has $11.86 million in various bonuses, which will accelerate the salary cap in the form of dead money when traded or released next season.

At the base level, the money versus talent question is simple. The Cowboys can get rid of Elliot and impose a cap charge of $11.86 million, or they can keep him and impose a cap charge of $16.72 million. Pressing those two numbers against each other, it comes down to whether Elliott is worth carrying an additional $4.86 million in 2023. And if he’s not, what kind of player is replacing Elliott on the roster in 2023 for just $4.86 million.

“The question is whether he is still in decline this year,” a league source said of Elliott. “He looks like a player in the fall. If that’s what he is, he might not be a mediocre person by the time you make that decision. If he kills it this year , so obviously you know the answer, because you won’t find a better player than [$4.86 million] to replace him. But if he refuses again this year, it doesn’t matter how much money you save or not. At that point it’s better to just take the save and move the opportunity to a player who can do more with it. ,

That yoga right there – He That is the question the Cowboys have to grapple with.

How good can Elliot be in 2022, and what is the replacement cost in 2023? Those questions are about the next two seasons instead of just this one. Dallas knows this. And that’s why they keep using whatever language they can about why it’s still important to the coaching staff and front office team.

That’s why no one competes like Zeke, says Stephen Jones, chief of player personnel, “as if it’s a data point that makes up the difference between performance and pay.”

This is why head coach Mike McCarthy calls him a “keystone player” who does “all the extra little things”, because he knows that Elliot lacks the big statistical “stuff” that would have made it easier to justify his salary. Is.

The Cowboys are looking for reasons to keep Elliot in the fold until he returns to the style of play that eventually demands his place in 2023. If he can do that, there is some financial sense to justify it. If he couldn’t, he would have decided cowboys for them, regardless of what was to blame this time.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy (right) continues to voice his support for Ezekiel Elliott, while questions are being raised about Elliott's future with the team.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy (right) continues to voice his support for Ezekiel Elliott, while questions are being raised about Elliott’s future with the team. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

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