Cowboys Send Cryptic Message on Shaky Futures of Stars Amid Rumors

Jerry Jones

Getty Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones walks onto the field before an NFL game.

The Dallas Cowboys face critical decisions on the futures of several stars, including Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard and Tyron Smith. During a January 23, 2023 interview on “Cowboys Hour,” vice president of player personnel Will McClay did not mention specific names but admitted the front office has discussed potential changes for some of the veterans. For context, Cowboys broadcaster Brad Sham asked McClay where the franchise was at regarding making decisions on potential contract restructures.

“You also have a couple of players for whom I have too much personal affection and respect to mention their names right now who have less of their career in front of them than behind them. Who may or may not be free agents, but the money is going to come into play,” Sham asked. “Where are you in the process of deciding, ‘I’d like that guy back, but I can’t afford him at that number. I don’t want to insult him but let’s see if he’ll take less and find a role for him.’ Where are you [in the process]? Have you reached that decision point with guys yet?”

McClay noted that the team has not begun those conversations with specific players but have had internal discussions on how to proceed with caution. One position of interest is running back given Pollard’s free agent status, and Elliott’s sizable $90 million contract. McClay alluded to the “frank conversations” the Cowboys will need to have with certain players in the coming months.

“Haven’t reached that decision point. [We] have had those internal discussions, because you got to figure out how to manage the credit card,” McClay remarked. “And out of respect to the people that have done work and that you want on your team, you’ve got to figure it out and communicate with their guys. Are they going to be insulted? Those are all things that you’ve got to go through, and you got to have strong enough relationships with those people and their agents to be able to have those frank conversations.”

Ezekiel Elliott & Tyron Smith Could Be Cap Casualties for Cowboys

Elliott has an additional four seasons remaining on his current deal and slated to have a $10.9 million salary for next season. This number escalates all the way up to $16.6 million in 2026 when Elliott will be 31 years old.

It would be a major surprise if the Cowboys did not at least restructure Elliott’s contract this offseason. Dallas has an out in Elliott’s deal for 2023 with no more guaranteed money remaining on the running back’s contract. The Cowboys would take an $11.8 million dead cap hit if the team releases the star heading into next season.

Elliott’s contract has not aged well with the declining value of NFL running backs, but the star also appears to lack the explosion that he once had as the focal point of the Cowboys offense. Smith is another potential cap casualty with the eight-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman playing in just four games this season. The veteran has missed significant time in seven straight seasons with the Cowboys.

Dallas could be more likely to restructure Smith’s deal than cut the 32-year-old outright as the Cowboys would take a $12 million dead cap hit by releasing the star providing minimal cap savings. Smith has one year remaining on his eight-year, $97.6 million contract with a $13.6 million salary for 2023.

The Cowboys May Opt to Cut Zeke & Not Re-Sign the Star

Elliott admitted to being open to taking a potential pay cut to remain with the Cowboys. The challenge is having Elliott on the roster takes snaps away from Pollard (if he is re-signed) or another running back that the team could add this offseason. The Athletic’s Bob Sturm believes the best path forward for Dallas is to cut Elliott and allow the veteran to move on to another team.

“I would find anything short of a full cutting of the cord to be a disappointment,” Sturm wrote on January 27. “Again, this isn’t to say he hasn’t been a good soldier, but it is finished. People talk about a pay cut, but the money is only part of the bigger issue which is his spot in the pecking order and the organizational strife it causes to feel an obligation to his role on offense. The Cowboys cannot do it at any cost, because it is a progress stopper.”

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