For the first time since 2015, the city of Oxnard, California won’t have an Ezekiel Elliott sighting for Dallas Cowboys training camp.
But now, one analyst is questioning if the Cowboys ended up making a $90 million mistake with the 2016 first-rounder.
Ezekiel Elliott ‘Biggest Flop’ According to 1 NFL Analyst
Douglas Clawson of CBS Sports Saturday dove into the new state of running backs across the league. It’s become a widely debated topic in the aftermath of July 17 being labeled a dark day for the position — as three different stars Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Elliott’s former teammate Tony Pollard all failed to reach new deals with their teams.
As disappointing of a day it was for NFL running backs, Clawson points his finger at the current state of RBs going all the way back to the “bad deals” that included Elliott.
“Perhaps the most alarming news pertains to the three franchise-tagged running backs, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard. None received a long-term extension by Monday’s deadline as the market is still feeling the effects of three bad deals handed out to Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell in recent years,” Clawson said.
But he also gave the Ex-Cowboy this label: One of the “biggest flops.”
“Ezekiel Elliott was released this offseason (and remains unsigned) after he finished last in the NFL in yards per touch (3.9) in 2022 and clearly looked like a shell of his former self. He was set to enter the fifth year of a six-year deal,” Clawson wrote.
The same deal that saw his value skyrocket to $90 million, and helped redefine the market for running backs. But now, Clawson is among the population who believes that the deal ended up being overpriced and overdone.
The market for RBs has been put into such a precarious position that some of the league’s best and brightest decided to organize a Zoom call to air their grievances and discuss potential solutions. The call, which Elliott was not invited to, featured names like Austin Ekeler, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Derrick Henry.
Shortly after that Zoom call, as training camps officially began, Barkley shocked everyone by accepting a one-year deal with the New York Giants. The deal, which only paid a tad bit more than the franchise tag value, continued to show how depleted the RB market has become.
Ezekiel Elliott Before and After $90,000,000 Deal
The moment he arrived in Dallas, the fourth overall pick of the ’16 draft faced heavy scrutiny for being taken that high — as Elliott entered a league that became more pass-heavy and wide receiver reliant compared to running backs.
Elliott, however, helped redefine the workhorse back by racking up 1,631 yards – the third-best season output by a rookie NFL RB in league history. Elliott also in the process shattered rookie RB records for a franchise that produced Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett and the NFL’s all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith.
The Elliott deal arrived in 2019 with the feeling the Ohio State standout was going to be a Cowboy for life. He responded with 1,357 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, plus one more Pro Bowl appearance.
But that would be the last time Elliott was considered for the league’s all-star event. He became embroiled in fighting for RB1 duties with Pollard…ultimately no longer being considered the top backfield option.
Elliott went on to produce just one 1,000-yard season (2021) while handling more of a short-yardage role for Dallas — including scoring a combined 22 rushing touchdowns the last two seasons with the Cowboys.
Now, Elliott remains unsigned with training camps soon beginning, especially for his former team. And it leaves some people wondering if that $90 million deal was a waste all this time.
Cowboys Current RB Room
With Elliott still unsigned, the Cowboys could potentially look to bring the free agent back into the fold this season. As things currently stand, the Cowboys RB room consists of breakout Tony Pollard, who is coming off a serious lower leg injury, and very few household names behind him.
The team added Hunter Luepke as an undrafted free agent. They also added free agent Ronald Jones on a one-year, $1.5 million deal and drafted Deuce Vaughn in Round 6.
Vaughn has been the offseason addition that has received the most attention, but unfortunately, that hasn’t really been because of his play. Vaughn comes in at only 5’5″, which makes him the shortest player currently in the NFL. As fun as it will be to see Vaughn in a potential Darren Sproles role for the Cowboys, he will unlikely be able to carry much of the load if anything were to happen to Pollard.
Ultimately, if Zeke continues to stay unsigned, he might be the best depth option for Dallas. In fact, before training camp even started, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said himself that they have not ruled out a potential return.