Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout has carried through three weeks of training camp, and so far there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Reports recently emerged the Cowboys offered Zeke a contract that would have made him the second-highest paid running back in the leaguebehind Todd Gurley. Clay Travis went on a rant on Saturday morning about how ridiculous it is that Elliott turned down such an offer.
While this is the first anyone has heard of Elliott officially turning down the contract, it’s safe to assume he wasn’t a fan, otherwise he would have reported to camp. The general attitude around the situation has been similar to Travis’, however; the value of the running back has never been lower, so Elliott should take whatever the Cowboys are willing to give and end the charade. That’s a fair viewpoint, especially since this isn’t exactly the same thing as the Le'Veon Bell debacle. Elliott is still under contract for two years, while Bell had been franchise-tagged once and was about to undergo another season on the tag when he decided to sit out.
I fall on the opposite side of the coin. The Cowboys need Elliott more than he needs the franchise, and he is good enough to warrant a big contract, even bigger than Gurley’s. Dallas relies on Elliott to make their offense run the way they want it to. When comparing the difference between Elliott’s situation and other highly-paid running backs, the contrasts stand out. The Rams paid Gurley, but their primary weapon is the mind of Sean McVay. Bell was paired with an all-time great QB and wide receiver, so it’s natural Pittsburgh wasn’t looking to invest long-term money there.
The Cowboys have neither an offensive genius on the headset or a generational talent at quarterback. Dak Prescott is good, but not so good he can win games by himself. The offensive line, where Dallas has invested most of their resources over the last five years, is as good as advertised and is the main reason anyone is confident someone like Tony Pollard can get the job done without Elliott. But given where the Cowboys are right now as a franchise, that’s a big bet to make.
Jerry Jones is not looking for his franchise to take a step back the season after they looked as good as they have since Tony Romo’s heyday. Yes, they could adamantly refuse to adhere to Elliott’s demands and win the war of public perception, but at what cost? To replace Elliott’s NFL-high 304 rushes and 77 catches with a fourth-round draft pick? The offense is indisputably worse with no Elliott, but more importantly, Prescott is worse without Elliott. Elliott’s presence allows the offense to operate like the oiled machine they envisioned when investing the fourth overall pick in a running back and several other first-rounders in offensive linemen.
Elliott earns the ire of powerful members of the league and loses out on a good amount of money should the holdout carry over into the regular season, but ultimately he’d sign a rich contract, with the Cowboys or otherwise. Dallas loses the crux of their offensive system and any hopes of championship contention in what will be their last year of financial flexibility before the bill comes for all the young talent they’ve accumulated. They may have the contractual leverage, but as far as the football goes, they need Elliott. And he knows that.