The Dallas Cowboys are entering a pivotal season in many ways, and one of those involves the future of star running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott’s future in Dallas has been under scrutiny for much of the offseason, as the running back is aging and the Cowboys will hit a potential “opt-out” point in Zeke’s contract in 2022. Now, Pro Football Hall of Famer and legendary Dallas running back Emmitt Smith is adding his two cents.
The three-time Super Bowl champion chatted with SB Nation recently and was asked about his stance on Elliott and how the Cowboys use him.
“There’s no doubt… Ezekiel Elliott is our number one guy and should be the focal point of the entire offense. At the end of the day, I love Tony Pollard but Zeke is our 1-2-3 guy. The question becomes, how long can any man last in the league? Stephen Jones said it best, they don’t make ’em like they used to… Nowadays, it’s running back by committee. And that’s only by design. I’m not saying he can’t handle it. You’ve got to give him a chance to prove that he can.”
Smitth’s pedigree makes anything he has to say about running backs worth hearing. The former Florida Gator is aware of how the league has changed, and his call for Zeke to be the No. 1 back is sandwiched by the knowledge that “three-down” RBs are a thing of the past.
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Elliott and Pollard Balance
In the case for Elliott being a three-down back, his resume speaks for itself. Zeke cracked 1000 rushing yards for the fourth time in six seasons in 2021, adding 12 total touchdowns to boot according to Pro Football Reference.
However, Pollard is making more explosive plays happen with his chances. Pollard totaled 719 rushing yards in 2021, but averaged 1.3 yards more per handoff and 2.7 yards per reception.
The benefit of having fresh legs and a different skillset as a backup/secondary option is a big advantage, but Pollard’s performances have forced the issue: is he ready to lead the team in touches?
Obviously, Smith thinks Zeke should still be “the guy.” But considering rumors are focused on Elliott’s future starting in 2023, it could just be a matter of time for Pollard.
Cowboys Star Not Focused on 2023
While the conversation surrounding Zeke is focused on what comes after the 2022 season, the player himself isn’t stressing about it too much. When asked about speculation, Elliott said he’s just focused on what he can control.
“I think it is a big season, but I think you can’t look too far down the road,” Elliott said on July 28. “I think if I focus on every day, if I focus on having a good day of camp, if I focus on taking it week by week, I think everything will handle itself… I think if I handle my business every day, then I’ll be in a pretty good situation at the end of the season.”
The reason why next offseason looms for Zeke and Dallas is that the Cowboys will have cut down the majority of their committed, guaranteed money to the running back. Elliott will actually make $1.5 million less in 2023 per Spotrac, but Dallas could release or trade him with a cap hit of $11.86 million.
The other option is to continue with Elliott, but that will hinge on the 27-year-old running back returning to All-Pro caliber in 2022.