It’s difficult to overstate the impact Ezekiel Elliott has had on the Dallas Cowboys. The heartbeat of the Cowboys’ offense, Elliott has arguably been the best ball-carrier in the NFL since making his debut four years ago.
So it makes sense that Elliott is engaging in the midsummer rite of passage virtually all top running backs do when approaching the end of their rookie deals -- the infamous contract holdout. But the Cowboys’ front office seems determined not to blink first in this Texas stare-down.
Speaking on KCKT-AM in Dallas on Wednesday, Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ executive vice president, said the team has no intention of setting the standard when it comes to NFL running-back pay.
“We’ve got three really good football players that we’re dealing with here and that have very good representation. And they want to see the market,” Jones said. “We can’t push the issue unless we want to be a market-setter. And we’re damn sure not going to be a market-setter, because of all the things that go with being a Dallas Cowboy.”
The current high mark for running-back pay rests with Rams star Todd Gurley, who netted a four-year, $57.5-million contract that included $21.9 million fully guaranteed last year. The Rams bucked the growing trend of waiting until after a holdout to pay top dollar for a star ball-carrier. The Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways with Le’Veon Bell last year after the running back held out for the entire season following a 2017 campaign on the franchise tag. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is also holding out this summer for a new deal.
Jones says the team’s hesitation to set the bar for running-back pay stems from looming contract extensions for quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
“We want to be fair. We want our players to feel good about their contract,” Jones said. “But at the same time, we don’t want to do things that are out of line because we can’t afford to be that way. Whether it’s Dak, whether it’s Amari, whether it’s Zeke, they all understand we’ve got a whole group of young players coming behind them that want to be Dallas Cowboys and want to stay here.... We’re very convicted that we’re going to get these deals done.”
Still, with the NFL salary cap rising every year, it might be difficult for the Cowboys to stay under the Gurley line if they keep waiting. While Elliott will almost certainly rejoin the Cowboys before the start of the season, the ongoing contract drama in Dallas could very well spill over into 2020.