This time next year, Ezekiel Elliott will be playing his final games for the Dallas Cowboys. At least, that’s what 105.3 The Fan’s Mike Bacsik foresees: The club cutting bait with its $90 million workhorse following the 2021 season.
Bacsik took to the airwaves Friday to predict Elliott’s eventual ouster in a salary cap-driven move by a front office that, he argues, mistakenly invested in a devalued NFL position — and an “average running back.”
“I think when we get to the end of the 2021 season, the Cowboys will look to release Ezekiel Elliott. … I think they’re going to look at their financial aspect because I think they are committed to Dak [Prescott] being the quarterback of the future. And I think they’re going to just look at financially and look at his production and go, ‘Guys, it might be best to take a hit now and open up money for later.’
“I think we’re going to start hearing whispers out of Frisco that there’s a possibility that the Cowboys are going to release Elliott after the 2021 season. And it will be a financial hit. But I think they’re looking at it going, ‘We can’t keep paying this every year to a guy who is at best an average running back.'”
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Jerry Stands by Zeke
Bacsik’s forecast came in response to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ declaration the team will not reduce, demote, or otherwise “diminish” Elliott’s RB1 standing. Jones spoke on, and strongly refuted, the notion that impressive second-year backup Tony Pollard could cut into Elliott’s carries over the remainder of the season.
“Tony’s not a Johnny come lately to our appreciation for what he can bring to us. It always was exponential his potential here to help us, not though, let me emphasize, not though, at the diminished times we get the ball in the hands of Zeke or get Zeke involved in the offense in a way that he influences the offense so we can make big plays,” he said Friday on 105.3 The Fan. “All of this is all around what we’re trying to do with our key spot at quarterback. I would say no in answer to any role that Pollard is being considered that would diminish anything that we’re doing with Zeke.”
This idea evidently sprung to life following Dallas’ Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh in which Pollard, already one of the league’s best “handcuffs,” proved to have the fresher legs, leading the club with 57 yards on nine carries (6.3 YPC). Elliott needed 18 attempts to achieve 51 yards, and although he helped move the chains on numerous occasions, the Pro Bowler was reduced to an unflashy plodder.
Through nine weeks for the 2-7 Cowboys, Elliott’s converted 150 attempts into 572 yards (3.8 YPC) and five TDs, adding 238 air yards and one score on 36 catches. He’s yet to cross the century mark in a game this season; his longest run thus far went for 24 yards. The biggest blight, though, has been Elliott’s fumbling issues; five altogether, four lost.
Pollard, meanwhile, is averaging a healthy 4.4 yards per tote, 31.91% first-down carry rate, and hasn’t coughed up the ball. All on a paltry 152 offensive snaps — hence the moderate groundswell to increase his usage.
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Financial Ramifications of Future Release
Elliott, who received $50 million guaranteed on his six-year extension, technically is under contract through 2026. He’s collecting $6.8 million in base salary for 2020 and will pocket $9.6 million next year, after which point his guarantees expire.
If the Cowboys decide to move on, they might have to pull the trigger sooner than Bacsik suggests, as Elliott’s $12.4 million salary for 2022, his age-27 campaign, will become guaranteed if he’s on the roster beyond March 17, 2021, the fifth day of the new league year.
But here’s the rub: Dallas would absorb a cap-killing $24.5 million in dead money by designating him a pre-June 1 cut in 2021, per OverTheCap.com. Even in a post-June 1 scenario, they’d free zero space while burdening $13.7 million in dead charges. Conversely, the team would gain $12.4 million and swallow a relatively minimal $4.1 million in dead cap if they pink-slipped Elliott post-June 1, 2022.
Barring a trade in which another team shoulders the majority of his deal, Elliott is locked into a roster spot and every-down role next season. All bets are off after that, however.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL