NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott might miss time for the Dallas Cowboys this fall.
“But wait,” you might be thinking, “I thought Roger Goodell decided not to suspend Elliott for that incident with the security guard earlier this year.”
It turns out that this time, it’s Elliott himself dictating the terms of his missed time, as the star has said privately to close friends that he will hold out of Cowboys’ training camp unless he gets a new contract, according to a report from NBC Sports.
Elliott hasn’t been a big priority for the team in terms of a new contract extension because, as NBC points out, Dallas has had its attention diverted by players who are entering the final year of their contracts with the Cowboys and who will be free agents at the end of this season.
Dallas has re-signed defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and it has a strong interest in persuading quarterback Dak Prescott and wideout Amari Cooper to secure new deals without first testing the free agent market.
Elliott, meanwhile, is still on his rookie contract, making $3.85 million this year and $9.1 million in the 2020 season, according to Spotrac. He won’t hit unrestricted free agency until 2021.
To hold out this year would mean locking in an extension that won’t kick in for another two years, and Elliott could see a major backfire if Dallas calls his bluff.
After all, running backs are not generally the highest-value players on an NFL field anymore; the days of Walter Payton and Barry Sanders are long gone as teams tie up the bulk of their cap money on the passing game — like, say, Prescott and Cooper in Dallas.
With the notable exception of the New York Giants, who took Saquon Barkley second overall in 2018, most feature running backs these days are picked later in the draft. Consider that nine wide receivers were taken in the first two rounds of the 2019 draft, compared with just two running backs.
Furthermore, even the best running backs have struggled to find leverage when holding out for more money from their teams; Le’Veon Bell missed the entire 2018 season rather than take $14.5 million from the Steelers, and Pittsburgh simply let him go.
Bell ended up signing a deal with the New York Jets that is guaranteed for only two years and pays him $2 million in 2019 and $8.5 million in 2020 with a $4 million signing bonus. He has two non-guaranteed years on that contract in 2021 and 2022, but he’ll have to earn them first.
Elliott will likely be looking for something around $10 million a year from Dallas, but he should look at Bell as a cautionary tale.
Making matters riskier for Elliott in his quest to use the holdout as a weapon to get more money from his team is part of how Elliott ended up in Dallas in the first place.
DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing yards in 2014. Rather than pay him big money, the Cowboys simply let him walk in free agency, where Murray signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and saw his rushing yards per game drop from 115.3 in 2014 to just 46.8 in 2015. Two years later, Murray was out of football.
The Cowboys drafted Elliott fourth overall in 2016, put him on a rookie deal and got more value out of Elliott than Philadelphia or the Tennessee Titans got out of Murray.
From the point of view of the Cowboys’ front office, following the new NFL wisdom of getting guys on cap-friendly rookie deals has done them well so far, so they might just look at Elliott and his history of discipline problems and say, “Thank you, next.”
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