The Cowboys Are Stuck With Ezekiel Elliott For At Least the Next Two Years

Liam McKeone
Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott / Elsa/Getty Images
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Ezekiel Elliott has been awful for the Dallas Cowboys this season. That is not an exaggeration. The multi-time NFL rushing leader is currently averaging a whopping 3.9 yards per carry, good for 36th in the NFL behind such stars as Wayne Gallman and Leonard Fournette. He's averaging only 64.3 yards per game, which would be by far a career low. He has 707 yards through 11 games and is on track to total only 1,028 yards in 2020, also a career-low for a full season's worth of games.

Dallas is in the middle of a season from hell, riding an avalanche of poor luck that started with Dak Prescott's gruesome injury and continued through Thanksgiving when both starting tackles got hurt. So Elliott posting poor statistical benchmarks can be, at least in part, attributed to all the key contributors going down around him. But he's been killing his own team this year in the process of rediscovering his fumbling issue. He has six fumbles this year and most have come at the worst possible time. Not to mention that he's dropped 10 percent of the passes thrown his way this year, ranking in the bottom quarter of all running backs in the league in that percentage.

Dallas' starting lineup looks a lot different than it did Week 1, and not every running back has a perfect season every season. But Elliott was supposed to be a talent that rises above the supporting cast around him. That's why he was signed to a $90 million extension over six years. An extension that will result in Elliott counting for $35 million against the cap if he gets traded this year and $24 million if he gets traded next year.

The first potential out the Cowboys have comes in the 2022 season, where he'll only count for $10 million against the cap. This is a discussion that must be had at this point in the season because not only has Elliott been vastly underperforming for someone who's guaranteed $50 million over the life of the deal, but his play has been actively detrimental to the team's winning chances. That's not a big deal this year, where wins were always going to be hard to come by once Prescott went down. But if this play continues? Elliott will be taking up a lot of cap space while backup Tony Pollard is the player who gives Dallas the best chance to win.

The fumbling issue isn't new for 'Zeke, either. Every other year he comes down with a case of fumbilitis. He had five his rookie season in 2016, one in 2017, six in 2018, three in 2019, and six so far in 2020. That is not what Dallas is looking for out of a running back they deemed worthy of a big-money extension, an occurrence growing rarer and rarer in the NFL.

Maybe next year the butterfingers will disappear again and Elliott will once again be a top-five running back in the NFL as Prescott returns and the team's general health improves. But in a season where the Cowboys really could have used the steady hand of a No. 1 back being paid like one, Elliott has faltered. The fumble issue comes and goes, but averaging so few yards per carry and looking generally quite ineffective on the field is very concerning. And Dallas has to hope it's a one-off instead of the beginning of a downward slide, because they're stuck with him for another two years at minimum.

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