Anyone keeping up with the NFL is no stranger to the headline that’s dominating the news right now as we inch closer to the 2019 NFL season, Ezekiel Elliot is holding out until the Dallas Cowboys give him a contract extension.
The most recent news came yesterday as a source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that Elliot plans on sitting out the entire 2019 season until he gets his new deal.
Contract disputes are nothing new in football, especially when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys and their running backs.
1993 saw the Cowboys and legendary running back Emmitt Smith get into a contract dispute which caused Smith to holdout and miss the first two games of that season. The Cowboys lost both of those games and ended up making Smith the highest-paid running back in the league at the time.
Years later, after the 2014 season, the Cowboys let running back DeMarco Murray leave after he rushed for over 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns. Looking back it’s easy to see that they made the right decision as Murray struggled in his three years after leaving the Cowboys before retiring prior to last season.
Both sides have legitimate arguments to support their side of the dispute and before picking a side or judging, it’s only fair that fans know the logic behind both sides.
The Argument for the Cowboys:
The most used argument when it comes to not paying/overpaying a running back is the value that they will bring to a team once they sign their contract.
It’s a common talking point now that the window for a running backs’ best seasons would be their age 23-27 seasons in the league and that from there, most running backs begin to fall off.
It also just so happens that a lot of running backs rookie deals end during this age range and those that perform well, like Elliot, are expecting to be compensated for their performances.
Recent years have shown us that it can be a dangerous game to extend any running back long term as he approaches the end of his “peak years.”
Again the Cowboys dealt with this back in 2014 with Murray and it just so happened to pay off. The division rival Redskins had a similar thing happen for them in 2015 where they could have given their running back at the time, Alfred Morris an extension since he was coming off of back-to-back pro bowl appearances.
However, they allowed the season to play out and all of Morris had a down year on the Redskins, in his age 27 season.
Even with star running backs, there has been no guarantee for the last few seasons. The Rams rewarded Todd Gurley for his impressive 2017 season when he won Offensive Player of the year, by giving him a four-year, $60 million dollar contract. While Gurley followed up with an impressive 2018 he got injured towards the end and was a non-factor in the playoffs. This has many calling his contract the worst valued deal on the Rams.
Even the Le’Veon Bell situation from the Steelers last season is a valid point of comparison for the current situation, as Bell wanted to be paid for what he had done so far and to his credit, he did get paid, by the Jets. Meanwhile, the Steelers started James Conner in his place, who ended up totaling nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage.
So while many would disagree with how they’ve treated it so far, the Cowboys have a right to be wary about committing a lot of years and a lot of money to Elliot.
The Argument for Ezekiel Elliot:
On the flip side, if there has been one running back that deserves to reset the market on the position and be given the benefit of the doubt, it’s Ezekiel Elliot.
Since he has entered the league, Elliot has led the NFL in rushing in two out of his three seasons and led the league in yards per game all three years he’s been in the NFL.
The one season that he didn’t lead in rushing yards was the same season he was suspended for six games.
Another factor that leans in Elliots’ favor is his health, of the eight games he’s missed in his career, six were due to suspension and the other two were due to the Cowboys resting him.
The biggest factor of them all is the fact that the team has built their offense around Elliot. Several offensive linemen that were all drafted within the first two rounds and given long term contracts is a sign that a team values their running game. That would be the case with the Cowboys.
It’s also worth noting that the season where Cowboys quarterback, Dak Prescott, threw the most interceptions of his career so far happens to be the season that Elliot was suspended six games.
Even in a pass-heavy league, the Cowboys are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl while their most important offensive player is their running back. While it’s fair for the Cowboys and critics to question giving a big contract to a player that could fall off, it’s also fair to say that not only has Elliot not shown any signs of falling off yet but that not just any running back can do what he does for that team.
What this means for the NFL:
On the surface that means this situation could go either way for Zeke and the Cowboys. Recent reports have come out saying that the Cowboys do plan on offering Elliot a “generous” offer. However, the contract dispute goes deeper than simply Elliot wanting to secure his long term finances.
This could very well add a new issue to the discussions that will occur during the 2021 CBA talks. During some of the debates that have happened on various ESPN and FS1 platforms, the idea has been mentioned in passing that rookie running back contracts should be shortened because of all positions, it’s hardest for the running back to secure their second contracts.
Whether or not this holdout affects the Cowboys and when they will solve it remains to be seen. However, what seems clear is that with his holdout, Elliots’ actions could end up forcing us to revisit the value and importance of running backs in the league. Which every player at the position would appreciate.