Those holding out hope for Ezekiel Elliott’s departure need not hold their breath, too.
You can probably guess why.
“Ezekiel Elliott’s 2021 salary of $9.6 million already is guaranteed and carries a cap number of $13.7 million,” Watkins wrote in a recent mailbag 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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Cold, Hard Truth
Named the Cowboys’ biggest disappointment of 2020 (which is saying something), Elliott eclipsed 100 yards in just two games and notched his fewest ground touchdowns (eight) since 2018, as well as the lowest yards-per-carry (4.0) of his five-year career. His receiving output (338 yards) took a turndown from 2019 (420).
Like everyone else on the Cowboys’ offense, Zeke was severely impacted by the Week 5 loss of franchise quarterback Dak Prescott. From that point forward, he faced stacked boxes and was continually swarmed around the line of scrimmage.
Dallas’ injury-ruined offensive line (and his own calf ailment) also contributed to Elliott’s sagging numbers, but the 25-year-old was outshined by sophomore RB Tony Pollard on multiple occasions, leading to speculation about the former’s future in silver and blue — speculation that head coach Mike McCarthy was forced to dispel.
“I have no concerns about Zeke. I think he’s still a big-time player and will continue to be a featured component of our offense,” McCarthy said on Jan. 4.
That same speculation has prompted various flung-crap trade proposals including, but not limited to, sending Elliott to the New York Jets and reuniting him with Urban Meyer, the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The speculation makes for decent offseason reading material — little else. The NFL is governed by the almighty dollar sign, and Dallas, at least for the foreseeable future, is bound to Elliott because of it.
Hide your eyes, cover your ears, try to “la-la-la” it away. That fact doesn’t change.
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Elliott, who received $50 million guaranteed on his six-year extension, technically is under contract through 2026. He collected $6.8 million in base salary for 2020 and will pocket $9.6 million in 2021, after which point his guarantees expire.
If the Cowboys do decide to move on, they might have to pull the trigger sooner than later, 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.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL