Those familiar with Ezekiel Elliott’s on-field vibe have seen him mimic the feeding process after he does something spectacular with the football. He lifts an imaginary fork or spoon to his open mouth. It’s Zeke’s way of telling us he’s hungry and he wants to be fed.
Well, the Dallas Cowboys finally fed their Pro Bowl running back on Wednesday and the meal was a veritable buffet table of rich goodies.
Elliott and the Cowboys have agreed to a six-year, $90 million contract extension. Add it all up and he will receive $103 million over eight years with $50 million guaranteed.
And so ends the months-long game of cat and mouse between Elliott and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Things got so bad a few weeks back that Zeke, who skipped all of training camp, and his crew headed off to Cabo San Lucas to work out and sulk about the lack of progress over the new deal.
Now all is well. Jones discovered he had enough money to pay Elliott and still maintain the financial balance he seeks with a number of other big-money deals still to negotiate with guys like quarterback Dak Prescott, who is said to be asking for $40 million annually.
Elliott’s deal makes him the NFL’s highest-paid running back. He has just leapfrogged Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams, who was averaging $14.375 million. Zeke also becomes the first player in Cowboys history to pull down a deal that exceeds $100 million.
He should rest high on that mountain of money until the New York Giants are forced to reset the market once again by signing Saquon Barkley to his extension. And so it goes.
“Zeke has been arguably our best player. I’m not trying to be unfair to anybody else, but he’s an incremental part to our success,” Jones said Wednesday on CNBC. “We’re glad to get him booked in, we’re glad to have him on the team.”
Elliott was due to earn $3.853 million in 2019 and $9.09 million in his fifth-year option year in 2020 before becoming a free agent.
The team is planning for a press conference on Thursday. At that point, Zeke will be asked if he thinks he’ll be able to play on Sunday when the Cowboys open the season against the New York Giants. Some believe he’ll be able to handle between 20 to 25 reps. Rookie Tony Pollard, who has looked so impressive in the preseason, will be there to back him up.
Elliott was the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Ohio State and he’s very much looked the part. He has averaged almost 22 carries in his 40 games, breaking the 300 barrier twice.
He would have done it in 2017, as well, had he not been forced to serve a six-game league extension. You’ll recall he was sidelined for violating the league’s personal conduct policy stemming from an alleged assault of a former girlfriend. Even though he was never charged or arrested, the league still punished him.
His value was really apparent last season when the Cowboys reached the postseason. He led the NFL with 1,434 yards on 304 carries with six rushing touchdowns in 15 games. In doing so, he became just the fifth player since 1932 to lead the league in rushing yards per game in three straight seasons.
Only Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown have ever won three rushing titles before the age of 25, which Elliott will turn in July 2020. You want more? Elliott’s average of 101.2 rushing yards per game is second in history, with a minimum of 40 games played, to the great Brown.
Elliott also led the NFL in carries per game (20.3), rushing yards per game (95.6), touches per game (25.4) and scrimmage yards per game (133.4). He also caught career-high 77 receptions for 567 yards and another three TDs.
Jones has now paid Elliott, defensive end Demarcus Lawrence ($105 million), linebacker Jaylon Smith ($63 million) and offensive tackle La’el Collins $50 million. And he still has Prescott, cornerback Byron Jones and receiver Amari Cooper to deal with.
“I’m $100 million lighter as of this morning,” Jones told ESPN from New York, where he and his son, team executive vice president Stephen Jones, rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange “He plays a position that has some pretty interesting dynamics to it because running backs are short-lived, although we had what I consider to be one of the top five greatest ones in Emmitt Smith. And Emmitt ran the ball for 13 years, so you don’t have to have a four- or five-year career to be a running back.”
If the Cowboys play hardball with Elliott, he’ll be returning some of that money very soon. He accrued $40,000 of daily fines for missing training camp and could also owe the team approximately $1 million of a prorated signing bonus included in his rookie deal. Of course, the Cowboys can waive all of that if they want.