Following the DeMarcus Lawrence extension, the Cowboys’ talks with their bevy of standouts have stagnated. But their priorities have become clear. The Cowboys have begun re-up discussions with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, and despite acknowledging Ezekiel Elliott is “the straw that stirs the drink” for them, the fourth-year running back appears to be on the team’s back-burner.
And they might not any time soon. Based on talks with several close to this process, ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano notes the Cowboys are not only unlikely to extend Elliott in 2019 but possibly will go through 2020 with the two-time rushing champion still tethered to his rookie deal.
Elliott being under contract for two more seasons, with his fifth-year option worth only $9.1MM, and the prospect of a 2021 franchise tag makes the Cowboys comfortable they can retain Elliott at a reasonable price for a while, Graziano adds. Elliott participated in Dallas’ offseason activities, and a recent report indicated the parties were on the same page. But the two-time Pro Bowler’s patience with this situation figures to soon be tested.
The 23-year-old back watched Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson each sign for at least $13MM per year, and Elliott has amassed a historic workload through his first three seasons. No running back has more touches than Elliott (1,003) since 2016, despite the Ohio State alum missing eight games because of suspension and Week 17 rest, and only two backs (Edgerrin James and LaDainian Tomlinson) have ever accumulated more touches per game than Elliott (25.1) through three seasons. Another high-volume season, at a $3.9MM base salary, would be a risky proposition for the former No. 4 overall pick.
The Cowboys may not only view Prescott and Cooper deals as more pressing matters, but Graziano adds a Byron Jones extension may be a higher priority as well. This makes sense, given these players are in contract years and Elliott is now signed through 2020. But Elliott’s 2017 suspension helped keep that Cowboys iteration out of the playoffs, and among this sect of extension candidates, he is the only first-team All-Pro.
While a holdout would stand to weaken the defending NFC East champions, Elliott would be subject to fines for missing training camp. And from the team’s perspective, these high-end running back deals obviously come with risk due to running backs’ short shelf lives. Nevertheless, Elliott’s next move will be interesting.
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