2016 was a great year for the Dallas Cowboys and owner/GM Jerry Jones.
They had just drafted a stud running back to run behind a stellar offensive line, and their future franchise quarterback fell into their lap in the 4th round of that same draft.
Ezekiel Elliott came out of the gates as a rookie in 2016 and proved why he was the first running back selected in that draft.
He quickly became an MVP candidate rushing for 1632 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 108 yards per game on the ground and helping the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and NFC East title.
His mate in the backfield, quarterback Dak Prescott, also burst onto the scene after taking over for Tony Romo whose back injury ended both his season and career.
Dak also garnered MVP votes, and the Dallas Cowboys faithful believed they were looking at a future dynasty with both Prescott and Elliott being the centerpiece for years to come.
However, it was not that simple as it came time to negotiate contracts.
It became clear that the Cowboys were only willing to commit to one of the two stars long term.
They came to an agreement with Elliott on a six-year $90 million deal in the 2019 offseason — one of which Elliott held out — while allowing Prescott to play on the franchise tag after both parties’ inability to agree on terms of a contract.
Since Prescott’s season-ending injury, Elliott and the Cowboys have struggled sitting at 5-9 leaving fans to wonder if investing in Zeke over Dak was the right move.
Regardless, the Cowboys must take time to evaluate their future with the star running back this offseason, and here are some of their options.
This is the most likely option as it is hard to imagine giving up on one of the best players in the league at his position after just two seasons under his new contract.
Yes, he is experiencing career lows in almost every statistical category, but it is reasonable to believe that the front office will offer him some grace and attribute his lack of production to the sub par talent and injuries around him this season.
Alvin Kamara has more rushing TDs today than Ezekiel Elliott has all year.
— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) December 26, 2020
If they do decide to keep him, they must analyze the best possible way to use him.
Should they get their money’s worth over the next couple seasons and wear him down in hopes of winning a Super Bowl?
Or should they invest in Tony Pollard or another reliable backup running back to take the load off of him?
Either way, they must make sure that their offensive line is healthy and secure their future at quarterback as Zeke’s dominant 2016 season featured the best o-line in the league and MVP-level quarterback play.
Per Bleacher Report’s Maurice Morton, if he is released after the 2022 season, the Cowboys would save $8.3 million.
If he is released after 2023, they would save $10 million.
Don’t think this won’t factor into their decision.
If the Cowboys decide to go this route, it would simply be a money-saving decision that would allow them to reallocate the funds previously promised to him.
If they want to invest in Dak long term and improve their offensive line play, they may have to seriously consider this option.
His contract is not the most team-friendly deal, so the Cowboys would have to act quickly on this one.
A team with a quarterback on a rookie deal (Dolphins, Bengals, Chargers, Jets) could swoop in and take on Zeke’s contract to complement their star QB.
BREAKING NEWS: #EzekielElliot
Possible Trade Rumors????https://t.co/KVr3sCY2RH
— TheScout!! (@1stDown_Scout) December 22, 2020
This scenario is probably more far fetched than trading the star RB, but it shouldn’t be completely disregarded.
Zeke is only 25 years old and making $15 million a year over six years.
What if the Cowboys extended him to an even longer deal and decreased his yearly pay by a few million dollars?
There is no way Zeke and his camp would have agreed to that a couple years ago, but with his stock declining, it may be beneficial to think about it for both sides.
Sure the Cowboys would commit to a running back until he is well into his thirties, but he would be far from the highest-paid running back in the league by the end of his deal.
If he is one of the top backs in the league by that time, they would be getting him for a steal (think Scottie Pippen’s deal with the Bulls in the 90s).
If not, that contract would be much easier to trade than his current one and would free up some room each year to invest in a quality backup or offensive lineman.
This would be a huge risk to take for the Cowboys, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
The Cowboys should do what they can to try and keep Zeke at least for the next couple of seasons.
At this rate though, they need to evaluate all options and see if they can get creative to free up cap space for their quarterback and their injury-laden o-line.NEXT: 3 Dallas Cowboys Players Who Should Be In The Hall Of Fame