Why Cowboys didn’t pursue Derrick Henry and their devaluing of the RB with Zeke Elliott

When two-time NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry hit the free agent market in March, coming to the Dallas Cowboys seemed like a natural fit.

Henry makes his offseason home in Dallas and the Cowboys were in need of a physical lead back.

And when Henry’s former team, the Tennessee Titans, signed former Cowboys starter Tony Pollard to replace him, a running back swap would have been the chef’s kiss.

The Cowboys never picked up the phone.

And Henry signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens.

Henry told “Mad Dog Radio” that “the Cowboys never called at all.”

“I don’t really know what’s going on over there,” he said. “That’s where I stay in the offseason. I’m at the back end of my career. That’s a great organization. It would have been a great opportunity,” Henry said. “But I’m thankful I ended up here in Baltimore. Somewhere I wanted to be. They wanted me as well. It’s a perfect match.”

What’s going on in Dallas in an offseason when they were the lowest spending team in the NFL by more than $20 million is salary-cap restraints on the surface.

And the Cowboys have prioritized getting deals done for quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver CeeDee Lamb and edge rusher Micah Parsons.

That’s how vice president Stephen Jones explained himself to “Mad Dog Radio”.

“Well, first of all, nothing but respect for Derrick Henry. I mean, he’s one of the top backs in this league. He’s had one of the great careers in this league. I wish him nothing but the best with the Ravens. I’m sure a great place for him. Our situation is just, you know, and no one ever wants to say it, but it’s salary cap, and we just didn’t have the money to allocate to that position in terms of where we were from a cap standpoint, knowing what we’re looking at with Dak and certainly Micah and CeeDee Lamb.”

Jones went on to say that if the Cowboys were going to pay a running back in free agency, they would have would have kept Pollard.

That the Cowboys didn’t keep Pollard and eventually re-signed Ezekiel Elliott, who they cut following the 2022 season spoke volumes about diminished value of a running back in this organization.

“We just didn’t have those type of resources to allocate to that position,” Jones said. “We had to lose Zeke the year before from a cap standpoint. And, you know, we just didn’t have the dollars to allocate to the running back position. And, certainly, looking to do it in a more efficient way in terms of how it complements the rest of our offensive roster.”

It’s a dramatic change of philosophy for a Cowboys franchise that has never known success without a top back — including Duane Thomas, Calvin Hill, Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith before Elliott — that is finally catching up with the rest of the league when it comes to the devaluing the running back position.

It was just in 2019 that the Cowboys valued the running back so much that they caved to an Elliott hold out and contract demands with a six-year, $90 million extension that included early triggers on the next year’s salary that tied him to the franchise even after his play started to decline.

Elliott spent the first seven years of his career with the Cowboys, becoming the franchise’s third all-time leading rusher with 8,262 yards on 1,881 carries with 68 touchdowns on the ground.

He was with the New England Patriots last year, leading them in rushing yards (642) and receptions (51).

Elliott averaged only 3.5 yards per carry and he has not had a 100-yard rushing game since 2021.

Now, Elliott is back on a pittance of his former deal.

He will get $2 million in 2024 and be part of a running back-by-committee approach along with the unheralded likes of Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Malik Davis and free-agent signee Royce Freeman.

Will it work for a franchise that has not won a title since the 1995 season when Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher led the league with 1,775 yards and 25 touchdowns?

It can’t hurt.

After 28 years of not making it to the NFC title game, the Cowboys are trying something new with an old friend.