An Ezekiel Elliott return? Or draft pick? Cowboys mull their running back choices

Yes, there is mutual interest between the Dallas Cowboys and running back Ezekiel Elliott about a return to the team in 2024.

But nothing is imminent.

Elliott won two NFL rushing titles in seven seasons in Dallas before being cut following the 2022 season because his high salary didn’t align with a decline in production.

After spending last season with the New England Patriots, scoring just three touchdowns and averaging 3.5 yards per carry in a part-time role, he is again a free agent.

Even more interesting is that he is still counting $6 million in dead money against the Cowboys salary cap in 2024.

How much he is worth is a matter of discussion. What would be his part-time role in Dallas remains a point to ponder.

And while 2023 backup Rico Dowdle signed a one-year deal to return, what is known is the most likely replacement for departed starter Tony Pollard will come in the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft.

The Cowboys are hosting seven running backs this week as part of their 30 pre-draft visits: Florida State’s Trey Benson, Oregon’s Bucky Irving, Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen, Texas’ Jonathon Brooks and Marshall’s Rasheen Ali, Alabama’s Jase McClellan and TCU’s Emoni Bailey.

Add in the Dallas Day workouts on Monday and 11 Horned Frogs have visited the Cowboys in the pre-draft process.

The aforementioned backs are also projected to be selected somewhere between the second and seventh rounds in the draft, which is three weeks away.

The Cowboys are confident they will be able to get one to fit their needs and have an immediate impact.

“Yeah, I think there’s players at all levels in the draft,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “Wherever that makes the most sense and brings the most value, and value compared to another position. [We] are very comfortable that we can find running backs that can have success here. We’ve done it in the past. We brought in a veteran in [Darren] McFadden one year. I think he ran for 1,100 or 1,200 yards. The running back position, as we all know, you can find really good backs and you can put them in a position to have success.”

One of the more interesting prospects is Brooks, who was considered by many to be the top running back in the draft before he suffered a torn ACL against TCU last November.

After playing behind draft picks Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson his first two seasons at Texas, the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Brooks rushed for 1,139 yards and 10 touchdowns and averaged 6.1 yards per carry in his only season as a starter in 2023.

But Brooks showed strength, vision, elusiveness and versatility as a three-day back before his season was cut short.

Cowboys team doctor Dan Cooper did the surgery so the franchise could have all the information necessary regarding his injury and recovery.

“It always helps when one of the doctors you’re very familiar with does the surgery,” Jones said. “That’ll be very helpful. Obviously, he’s a guy we follow right in our backyard in Texas. He’s got a lot of skill sets. If it wasn’t for the injury, might would’ve ultimately been rated the best back in the draft. Any time that a back is coming off an injury, you have to take those things into account.”

Any back the Cowboys take needs to be ready for the start of the season. They can’t take a chance on a injured player.

Brooks said he should be ready for the start of training camp.

And that’s Jones’ understanding as well.

“Our understanding is that he has a great chance to be ready to not miss anything, start training camp and go to work,” Jones said. “We’ll see. I don’t want to preempt anything. I haven’t seen the medical reports, but from a periphery basis from afar, going to the combine and things like that, I think he can be a player that can start first day of training camp. Not start, but participate right away.”

If he is healthy, Brooks will come into the league with minimal tread on his tires. He has just 266 touches at Texas, 212 of which came in his final 11 games.