Cowboys Make Last-Minute Decision on Ezekiel Elliott’s Future

Getty Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys

Barring a stunning eleventh-hour twist, the Dallas Cowboys will retain running back Ezekiel Elliott for the upcoming campaign — and perhaps beyond.

That’s because if Elliott remains under contract past Sunday, the fifth day of the new league year, his $12.4 million base salary for 2022 becomes fully guaranteed. Which is the expectation.

To little surprise, the Dallas Morning News‘ Michael Gehlken reported Saturday that Elliott’s deal, and that of linebacker Jaylon Smith, are “scheduled to be locked in this weekend.”

Gehlken’s coworker, Cowboys beat reporter Calvin Watkins, reported in January that the team is unlikely to cut or trade the three-time Pro Bowl RB this year.

“Ezekiel Elliott’s 2021 salary of $9.6 million already is guaranteed and carries a cap number of $13.7 million,” Watkins wrote for the Dallas Morning News. “If he’s a post-June 1 cut, the Cowboys get no savings. But if he’s a pre-June 1 cut, the Cowboys take a $10.8 million cap hit and have to deal with $24.5 million in dead money. The Cowboys are not cutting Elliott, and there’s a belief his 2020 season won’t happen again considering the injuries encountered at offensive line and at quarterback. Trading Elliott is difficult to do considering his contract. Plus, why would a team trade for a running back coming off a down year?”

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By The Numbers: Zeke

Elliott — who received $50 million guaranteed on his six-year, $90 million extension, inked in 2019 — technically is signed through 2026. He collected $6.8 million in base salary for 2020 and will pocket $9.6 million next season, after which point his guarantees expire and his future muddies.

“Although some are speculating that running back Ezekiel Elliott or receiver Amari Cooper could be traded soon due to Dak’s deal, the more likely outcome will be at least one more season with Cooper and Elliott before either or both are traded or released,” Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio wrote earlier this month.

“Elliott could be traded this year, with his base salary of only $9.6 million. A pre-June 1 trade, however, would trigger a $14.9 million cap charge for the Cowboys. It also would saddle his new team with the guaranteed salary of $12.4 million in 2022.”

Left unbothered, Elliott is slated to count $13.7 million ($9.6 million base salary, $4.1 million prorated bonus) against Dallas’ 2021 salary cap. However, a simple restructure of his contract would instantly produce $6.8 million in relief, per OverTheCap.com.

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By The Numbers: Jaylon

Similar to Elliott’s situation, it was previously reported that Dallas would not be releasing the highly-paid yet underperforming Smith. “The Cowboys are considering ways to clear cap room through contract restructures and releases. But one option that is not on the table is the cutting of maligned linebacker Jaylon Smith, according to a source,” Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote in February.

Smith is entering year three of his five-year, $63.75 million extension; designating him a post-June 1 cut would create $7.2 million in cap room. As is, he’s set to count $9.8 million against the cap in 2021, his age-26 campaign.

A key culprit on a historically bad Cowboys defense that surrendered the most points in franchise history, Smith recorded a team-leading 154 tackles in 2020. The NFL’s third-richest LB added 1.5 sacks, one interception, and zero forced fumbles as impact plays were few and far in-between.

But despite the addition of former Falcons linebacker/safety Keanu Neal, “Smith’s roster spot not believed to be in immediate jeopardy,” ESPN’s Ed Werder reported via Twitter on Sunday.


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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL


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