Word got out Tuesday that Ezekiel Elliott could be planning to hold out of training camp when the team reports July 26th. The timing of this news is a bit shocking to me because he still has two years left plus the two additional years that the Cowboys could franchise tag him. That would put the team at 4 years left of team control, in theory.
Elliott is scheduled to enter his 4th NFL season in 2019. The Cowboys exercised his 5th year player option earlier in the off-season which will pay him just over $9 million for the 2020 season.
However, he is only scheduled to make 3.8 million in 2019. In the NFL, it is unusual that a player receives a contract extension with two years left on his deal, but the fact that Elliott is only scheduled to make 3.8 million in 2019 vs. just over 9 million in 2020 could explain why he is reportedly considering holding out.
Charles Robinson from Yahoo Sports said that this week will be very important and could decide which direction this goes.
If Elliott feels like things are progressing, he will report to camp and this is a non-story.
If he does not feel that way, Robinson says that things could go sideways pretty quickly. Robinson says that Stephen Jones is “running point” in these discussions, which could be bad news for Zeke although Jones said earlier in the off-season that he is the “straw that stirs our drink.”
I think there are two factors that play into this situation for Elliott and the Cowboys.
Does Zeke deserve a contract extension?
Despite football analytics telling you that the running backs do not matter, I believe he absolutely deserves to be paid among the highest paid running backs in the league. The fact that Elliott has remained so effective despite defenses loading the box because they do not fear the passing game speaks to the player he is. Since 2016, no running back in football has gained more yards after contact than Elliott.
Does Elliott have any leverage in this situation?
This is where the timing of this doesn’t add up. Like I mentioned earlier, Elliott still has two years left on his current deal so the amount of leverage is minimal. And on top of that, Elliott has to report to training camp by August 6th or he will not accrue the 4th year, which adds another year the Cowboys have control.
Elliott knows that he is in for another huge workload this season and is wanting to have his future protected with a long term contract. I am sure he is aware of what the Cowboys did to Demarco Murray in 2014.
In 2014, Murray rushed 392 times which led the NFL by 80 carries that season. The Cowboys said publicly that they wanted Murray back but they would only take him back at their price. The Cowboys also had a Dez Bryant contract coming up at the time.
It is not a secret that running backs in the NFL are not as big of a priority to teams right now with the way teams are throwing the football. Here are three of the more high profile and recent running back contract situations.
Todd Gurley got his contract last off-season and then was basically replaced by C.J Anderson in the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl.
Side note: Stephen Jones has said that the floor for a Zeke contract is Gurley. Gurley is making $14 million per season.
Le’veon Bell sat out an entire season before signing a 4 year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets this off-season.
Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers has said publicly that he will not report to training camp and wants to be traded if a deal is not reached. Gordon is in the last year of his deal.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys do not get where they are trying to go without 21 in the backfield.
In my opinion, it would benefit Elliott more over his career to play this season out and take a stance next season if a contract is not reached. Reason being, he gets the accrued 4th season and that much closer to free agency because it feels unlikely that the Cowboys would franchise him.
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