Is it September 8th yet? Ever since the Ezekiel Elliott holdout rumors began to swirl a few weeks ahead of the start of training camp back in July, the most influential NFL media voices have had to shout their latest opinions on the matter each and every day even if there wasn’t anything new from the day before.
Undoubtedly, there have been plenty of developments over the course of this roughly six week saga that currently has no end in sight, but it still is exhausting to follow.
When this all first started, the only negative thing surrounding this upcoming Cowboys season was the slightly funny video of Elliott acting a fool (surprise, surprise) at the Las Vegas EDM festival earlier this year.
While something unpleasant was undoubtedly going on between him and whatever woman he following, the whole thing with stumbling over the security guard was just a “shaking my head” type of thing. Despite that embarrassing, but unfortunately common, situation lingering, the focus and narrative surrounding the team seemed unified and obvious: Winning Super Bowl LIV.
Here we are just one week away from the regular season beginning against the New York Giants on September 8th and it has been weeks since the number one focus/narrative around the team has been winning football games.
Admittedly, this is the Dallas Cowboys and a little story is always going to turn into a big story whenever you’re the marquee franchise in the biggest league on the planet, but the ongoing contract dispute between Elliott and the Cowboys front office is not a little story. This is a big story that is expanding into several other damaging stories.
While Elliott has remained relatively quiet, besides an interview with Maxim, he has plenty of mouthpieces representing him and they’re not sending the best messages.
Marshall Faulk looping in quarterback and Elliot’s friend Dak Prescott as one of the “bum” quarterbacks in the league after a potential extension and resenting Jaylon Smith for getting a contract extension is not just a fun hot take on a radio show whenever Faulk and Elliott share the same agent.
It’s not that crazy of a leap to assume Elliott has those same feelings about his teammates. His teammates that showed up to work in July and have been working their rear ends off to get ready for what is supposed to be a Super Bowl-worthy season.
On the flip side, Elliott is a working professional that has every single right to seek out the highest possible compensation for the high quality, and often incredible, way he performs his job.
He’s arguably the best back in the game and easily could be for the next several season if all goes according to plan.
At every other position in football, if your contract’s up and you’re playing at the level of Elliott, your new salary will be at the top of what everyone at your position is being paid. At running back?
Not so much in the 2019 version of the National Football League, according to Jerry Jones and likely every other front office official around the league.
If you’re Zeke, why do you just have to bend your knee to the man and accept that you don’t get paid as much as your statistics might suggest you should?
For once in my life, I can understand where Zeke’s head is at in an important moment.
The situation is at a stalemate with very little time remaining for it to be resolved without the team’s 2018 offensive MVP missing games that count. Maybe Dallas will be just fine without Elliott early on considering their seemingly light schedule coming out of the gates.
Does that success without their teammate who is voluntarily missing games turn the attitudes of Cowboys players against Zeke? If they already aren’t like that whenever the likes of Prescott, Amari Cooper and Byron Jones are in camp while trying to get new contracts?
Or does a misstep at home against the Giants cause all of the organization to carry Elliott around the locker room on their shoulders when he returns before week 2?
Whatever the case, this is one of the most complex situations in recent DFW sports history and it is certainly not without lasting consequences. Dallas bends to Elliott and it faces a salary cap disaster over the coming seasons if he gets injured or quickly declines. Elliott puts his tail between his legs and steps back in line with a deal less than he believes he’s worth, then the contractual values of running backs in the NFL just continues to torpedo.
While the decrease in value on individual players at the position is understandable, it still seems fair that the elite backs should be paid like elite players, right?
Outside of the contract itself, surely the Dallas locker room dynamic has to have changed slightly up to this point. While Dak Prescott presents himself as a level-headed political candidate in interviews, it’d sure be interesting to hear how he really feels about everything.
Do the defensive players who have received their big deals like Demarcus Lawrence and now Smith feel a division of sorts between them and the other impending free agents still seeking their deals?
I’m sure all of this goes on in several organizations each and every season, but there’s just something about this Cowboys training camp that hasn’t felt right. It often seems like in recent Cowboys history that the seasons anticipated to be the best go down in mediocrity or outright flames.
Think back to the 2008 season that followed the electric 13-3, NFC one-seed 2007 campaign. Hard Knocks was in training camp. They traded for Adam “Pacman” Jones. Signed Zack Thomas. Terrell Owens was still in tow. Why wouldn’t this be even better? They entered December 8-4 but finished the season 9-7 and with that disastrous 44-6 route in Philadelphia with a playoff spot on the line.
They rebounded in 2009 to 11-5 and won the NFC East and a first round playoff game. Their encore in 2010? Tony Romo breaks his clavicle during a 1-7 start that gets Wade Phillips fired.
Fast forward to the amazing 2014 season that has Dallas go 12-4 and win the division. The pieces are back in place for Super Bowl run in 2015, for sure.
Well, a broken collarbone for Romo in Week 2 and a season of Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel at QB can kind of change a team’s plans from a Super Bowl run to “who should we take with the fourth overall pick because we finished 4-12?”
2016 saw the lovable rookie duo of Dak and Zeke lead the “Boyz” to a dominant 13-3 record. They’ll be even more dominant in year two, right?
Well, Elliott’s suspension for domestic violence accusations was pushed and pushed until it was enforced at a vital point in the season. That plus relying on Chaz Green dragged Dallas down to a 9-7 record and a missed postseason.
Here we sit on the doorstep of the 2019 season with sky-high expectations following a 2018 campaign that saw another division winner. Virtually the same team is back. A couple new weapons in Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb.
Let’s go, right? No, let’s have the focal point of our offense potentially miss regular season games because of a contract dispute.
Again, I don’t fault the Cowboys for not giving Zeke the money he’s wanting. I don’t fault Zeke for fighting for what’s best for himself in a league where no one truly cares about you once you’re not what you once were.
It just won’t be crazy to me if this tension and circus-like atmosphere contribute, not single handedly, to the gradual derailing of another season for the Cowboys where they go in with high hopes.
Injuries happen and take down seasons. You can’t control that. Contract disputes and a fractured locker room? It’s not always easy, but they are avoidable. The Cowboys need to be careful if they want to accomplish their goals in 2019.
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