The tea leaves suggest Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys are moving toward an accord.
The latest rumor comes courtesy of former Cowboys wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who took to Twitter on Thursday to “report” that he “heard Zeke gonna sign his deal soon and play Week 1.”
Before you write off Bryant, a 2002 second-round pick of Dallas who played eight professional seasons and isn’t named “Adam Schefter,” Cowboys reporter Bobby Belt noted the 38-year-old’s track record with breaking news.
Hours after his tweet, Bryant fired off another cryptic missive for fans to ponder:
Elliott’s bag is likely to have attached to it the title of top-three-highest-paid-backs. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported earlier Thursday that the Cowboys submitted a contract offer to the league’s reigning rushing champion which likely would check in ahead of Le’Veon Bell and behind only Todd Gurley.
“The most recent offer in negotiations between holdout Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys came from the team,” Werder tweeted. “Elliott has been offered a contract making him one of the NFL’s 2 highest-paid RB. That would suggest team offering more than LeVeon Bell and less than Todd Gurley.”
A previous report Thursday claimed Elliott would be ready to go for the Sept. 8 season-opener against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys are projected to sport less than $20 million in available salary cap space after signing linebacker Jaylon Smith to a five-year, $64 million extension on Tuesday, a deal that includes $35.5 million in guaranteed money. The team is also negotiating new contracts for franchise quarterback Dak Prescott and star wide receiver Amari Cooper, but has “less pie left,” as owner Jerry Jones put it.
In announcing Smith’s windfall, Jones sent a subtle message to the other money-seekers, including his high-profile holdout.
“It is neat that Jaylon understands that when you have a solid roster and you have as many high-quality young players that we have, you have to allocate your resources wisely to keep and have all those players,” Jones said. “That’s called team building, and I will assure you that this was about team. It certainly was beneficial to Jaylon but I can assure you this was about team. Our goals are to build the best team and it takes cooperation from both parties when you are doing agreements. He’s worth 1,000 words of anything we can say about contracts and the Dallas Cowboys.”
The No. 4 overall pick in 2016, Elliott is entering the penultimate year of his four-year, $24.956 million pact, which included $24.5 million guaranteed and a $16.35 million signing bonus. He’s due just $3.85 million in base salary for 2019.
Zeke Gains Backing of NFL Legend
Seven-time first-team All-Pro former Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, now retired and working as an NFL analyst, grabbed headlines Thursday by airing his strong support in Elliott’s fight. Thomas believes Zeke should not accept anything less than becoming the richest RB in league history.
“If I am Zeke, and the Cowboys send me an offer anything less or equal to Todd Gurley, it’s going straight to voicemail,” he wrote on Twitter. “They can’t honestly think he would accept anything less than to be the highest paid running back. It’s just an insult to even start anywhere below that number.”
Elliott Subject to Fines
Dallas can enforce a $40,000 fine for each day Elliott misses. Additionally, the team has authority to chase repayment of up to 25 percent of his $4.087 million signing bonus proration, as part of his rookie deal.
Should Elliott opt to sit out regular season action, he would potentially owe $226,000 for each game he skips, according to Archer, who also noted that Dallas can waive these fees if they so choose.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter @KelbermanNFL