Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout is currently dominating news surrounding the Cowboys. Some reports claim he won’t play a down from Dallas this season unless he gets a new deal. The idea of missing him for the 2019 season has Cowboys officials sweating bullets.
Handing Elliott a shiny new contract isn’t a simple proposition for Jerry Jones and company. They have a number of other players who will need raises in the near future. Most notably, quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper are also going to demand premium deals within the next 12 months. It will be difficult, but not impossible, for the Cowboys to give big deals to all three of their offensive superstars.
The current debate about just how valuable running backs can be in the NFL is also weighing heavily on the minds of Cowboys officials. Todd Gurley’s currently the highest paid running back in the league, but his contract looks pretty ugly at the moment. Questions about the health of his knees are very concerning for the Rams. It’s possible that his contract could derail a potential dynasty for Sean McVay and company.
The Cowboys certainly don’t want to make the same mistake with Elliott. Supporters of the 24-year-old running back would correctly point out that he’s been one of the most durable backs in the league during his young career. Elliott also doesn’t have any health issues that might lower his value to the Cowboys or any other team interested in his services.
The Gurley contract isn’t the only thing depressing running back value around the league. The cheap price of replacing a top-shelf back is also a very obvious fact to most teams trying to build Super Bowl contenders. The list of late round picks who’ve developed into highly productive backs in recent years is too long to list here. Suffice it to say, smart NFL executives believe paying big money to a running back is a very inefficient use of salary cap resources.
There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Elliott should serve as the exception to that rule. He rushed for 1,434 yards last season in just 15 games. The talented back also tacked on another 567 yards on 77 catches. He’s one of the best two-way backs in the NFL. His importance to the Cowboys offense can’t be overestimated.
At 24-years-old, it’s also very likely that he’s just entering his prime as an NFL playmaker. The Cowboys have leaned heavily on him for his three professional seasons, but we’re not talking about a player who is poised to see his production fall off a cliff. Unless he suffers some sort of debilitating injury, it’s very likely he’ll continue to play like one of the best running backs in the NFL for the next three to five seasons.
The issue over his potential longevity as a premium player is really the biggest question about what sort of contract the Cowboys should offer him. The years of commitment in any potential deal should be more important than the average annual salary. It’s entirely appropriate for the Cowboys to make Elliott the highest paid running back in the league. A contract paying him $15 million would put him slightly ahead of Gurley in that department. In exchange for that premium compensation, the Cowboys need to ask Elliott to accept a shorter deal than he would probably receive in a perfect world.
Our suggestion here is for both parties to find common ground with a three-year, $45 million deal. That would allow Elliott to become the highest paid back in the league, but it would also prevent Dallas from paying him big money after his prime. The two sides could easily add some extra potential years onto the deal to make it look better for the press conference, but the Cowboys should absolutely have an out after three years to protect their salary cap.
If the Cowboys can get Elliott to sign that sort of deal, it should signal a win for everyone involved. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the young running back becomes a legitimate NFL MVP candidate after being taken care of financially. Current odds put Elliott’s chances of winning the hardware as high as 60:1. Taking a flyer on arguably the most talented running back in the NFL to be the MVP is absolutely worth your time and money.
Elliott may be looking for a bigger deal than the $45 million over three years that we’ve proposed, but the Cowboys need to draw a line in the sand that prevents them from making a big mistake. Elliott is a special player, but he plays a very ordinary position. That should prevent him from securing the sort of payday he wants.