With the Cowboys currently intent on extending quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper, both of whom have contracts that expire after the season, the Cowboys don’t seem to be thinking at all about negotiating a new contract with running back Ezekiel Elliott.
It’s fairly obvious that the Cowboys aren’t making Elliott a priority for a 2019 re-do, and it’s equally obvious that Elliott won’t be clamoring for his second contract this year. The question becomes whether the Cowboys will extend Elliott prior to the 2020 season, which will be the last of his rookie deal.
Dan Graziano of ESPN recently speculated that the Cowboys may wait until after Elliott’s rookie deal expires, opting to sign him to a new contract with application of the franchise tag looming or opting to keep him for a sixth (and perhaps final) season under the tag. These possibilities, however, fly in the face of comments previously made by Cowboys COO Stephen Jones.
“Certainly we’ve got a couple years there with Zeke to get that done,” Jones told the #PFTPM podcast in the days after the 2019 draft. “We certainly want to get him done. He’s the straw, if you will, that stirs our drink. He’s a key part of what we’re about. Those things take time to get done. They don’t happen overnight. Certainly he’s a priority in terms of ultimately getting him signed. There hasn’t really been a timetable put on this.”
While Zeke may be the straw that stirs the drink now, the Cowboys possibly will be stirring the drink with a new straw, if the offensive focus shifts from banging the ball into the middle of the line of scrimmage with Zeke to developing a stronger passing game, fueled by Amari’s 2,000-yard aspirations. If, after a 2019 season that could, in theory, see more Dak and less Zeke, maybe Zeke becomes less of a priority.
Then there’s the possibility that a coaching change is coming for the Cowboys after the 2019 season, and a new coach may feel differently about a Zeke-centric offense.
Maybe, eventually, Zeke will get the DeMarco Murray treatment. Murray set the franchise’s single-season rushing record in 2014. His reward? A trip to the open market, and a one-way ticket out of town.
It’s currently difficult to envision the Cowboys reaching the same conclusion about Elliott, especially since the franchise used the fourth overall pick in 2016 to get him. Still, quality running backs are easier to find, and are far cheaper, than quality quarterbacks. With plenty of star players on the payroll who have been or will be paid, there’s a chance someone will be holding the bag. Until Elliott gets a second contract, there’s a chance it will be him.
Elliott seems to be content with the reality of not getting a new contract in the near future. Given the possibility that the team may never give him one, Elliott should revisit his position on whether now is the time to draw a line in the sand and demand more.