Relations between Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys aren't strained but this week's contract talks will be crucial

In an offseason that has been dominated by the dragging (or nonexistent) contract talks with quarterback Dak Prescott and wideout Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott was the one player the Dallas Cowboys hoped to keep on the back burner.

Now it’s becoming clear the star running back wants his next contract extension, too. And sooner rather than later.

Sources familiar with both Elliott and the Cowboys said the two sides have been talking about Elliott and a potential new deal for roughly the last month. Those talks have been slow to progress in any meaningful way, at least partially because the Prescott deal remains the top priority for Dallas and is expected to set the table for the Elliott and Cooper extensions. One source said that lack of progress has led to frustration on Elliott’s part, which appeared to be a nod to Monday’s ProFootballTalk report that Elliott has told associates that he is planning to hold out of training camp, where the Cowboys are scheduled to report on July 26.

But a source familiar with the talks between Dallas and Elliott said Monday that the impasse hasn’t yet reached that crisis point.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) walks the field during an organized team activity at its NFL football training facility in Frisco, Texas, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) walks the field during an organized team activity at its NFL football training facility in Frisco, Texas, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Ezekiel Elliott’s 3 potential options

The source said Elliott and his camp made plans to take this week to assess the options on the table before coming to a consensus before camp starts. The source added that options are basically broken into three tiers:

  • Elliott sits out of camp and digs in for a prolonged holdout.

  • Elliott sits out the start of camp but reports by Aug. 6, which would preserve his accrued fourth season and keep him on track for unrestricted free agency following his fifth season.

  • Elliott reports for camp under his current deal and continues to press for an extension.

The details of those options matter, of course. A prolonged holdout would likely get nasty and force the Cowboys to consider other options in their backfield while potentially exposing Elliott to higher injury risk without the benefit of getting into football shape during camp practices. Conversely, if Elliott sits out and then reports by Aug. 6, the accrued fourth season of service would preserve his option to once again hold out next year without impacting his unrestricted free-agent status following the fifth year of his deal.

Could Julio Jones serve as an example?

Perhaps the most interesting (and maybe most equitable outcome for both sides at this point) is that Elliott reports to camp with some kind of assurance from the Cowboys that an extension will be a priority before the regular season kicks off. Possibly something similar to the assurance that ownership gave Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones about continuing to work on his deal during camp, in hopes of preventing a holdout.

With that latter vein in mind, sources familiar with the stances of both the Cowboys and Elliott have said the same thing: The dialogue between the team and Elliott’s camp hasn’t been strained up to this point. And talks have continued as late as last week, indicating that both sides are still working toward an agreement. What isn’t clear now is whether the latest report – that Elliott has already decided to hold out of camp – will change the dynamics between the two sides.

As of Monday night, it hadn’t.

The next week will be key for Dallas and Elliott, making a significant impact on whether the team arrives to training camp in Oxnard as a whole unit, or missing the backfield anchor that could make or break 2019.

For some historical context in this negotiation, it’s worth noting the Cowboys recently took a hard stance against the most prolific single-season rusher in team history. In 2015, Dallas wouldn’t budge from its final contract offer to running back DeMarco Murray, who eventually scoffed and bolted in free agency to NFC East rival Philadelphia.

Elliott is coming off a 2018 season in which he led the league in rushing with 1,434 yards. It was the second time in three seasons he led NFL running backs.

The Cowboys star last week dodged potential punishment from the league for an incident at a Las Vegas music festival, however, a security guard reportedly is pressing charges.

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