What does Cowboys’ decision to cut Zeke Elliott mean for their future?

What does Cowboys’ decision to cut Zeke Elliott mean for their future?
Video ezekiel elliott def pen

The speculation has finally ended. The Cowboys are parting ways with Ezekiel Elliott.

It’s long been suspected that Elliott’s unwieldy, $90 million contract would result in either a pay reduction or an outright release, and we now know the answer. The Cowboys have opted to part ways with their longtime running back, designating him a post-June 1 cut.

For the uninitiated, that means the Cowboys will lessen the sting of Elliott’s $16.7 million salary cap hit by spreading it out over the next two years. He’ll carry roughly $6 million in dead money each of the next two years, but the move will provide $10.9 million in cap relief in 2023 — though it’s important to note those savings won’t become available until the move is processed in June.

The smart guess is that money will be used to sign Dallas’ 2023 draft class, as well as roll flexibility over toward future contracts.

Outside of the accounting aspect, this creates an obvious opening in the Dallas running-back room. The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Tony Pollard, but that $10.09 million contract lasts just one year. The only other running back on the roster, Malik Davis, has just 38 career carries.

That will no doubt lead to some speculation about the upcoming NFL draft. Long before this decision, the Cowboys have been linked to running back prospects in this draft class — most notably, Texas standout Bijan Robinson. Evaluators consider Robinson one of the best running backs to enter the draft in the last decade, and there will no doubt be intrigue if the Cowboys have a chance to make him their next high-profile running back.

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There are other options, too. From Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs to Texas A&M’s Devon Achane or Tulane’s Tyjae Spears, this is a deep class of rookie running backs that will provide the Cowboys an opportunity to reinforce their depth chart.

[2023 NFL Draft RB rankings: Bijan Robinson stands out in a deep class]

If anything, the new storyline to watch might be whether the Cowboys work out a long-term extension with Pollard before the mid-July deadline to do so, or if they draft a replacement and let Pollard walk at this time next year.

As for Elliott, it’ll be strange to see the eight-year vet in another team’s uniform, but that appears likely. Elliott’s role diminished last year as Pollard broke out to become a Pro Bowler, but he still finished with 876 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

It will be interesting to see what his market looks like. To this point, 11 running backs have signed or agreed to terms on new deals in this free agency window. Only David Montgomery has secured any kind of sizable pay day, securing roughly $11 million in guarantees from the Detroit Lions. The rest of those deals have been one and two-year agreements with little in the way of guarantees. Elliott can still carve out a role for himself, but his next deal is not going to be as lucrative as what he’s been used to.

Regardless of his recent dip in production, Elliott will go down as one of the best backs in Cowboys history. His 8,262 career rushing yards rank third in franchise history, trailing only the lofty totals of Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett — both Pro Football Hall of Famers. His 68 total rushing touchdowns rank third behind those two legends, as well.

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As those numbers might suggest, Elliott has been one of the most productive backs in the entire league over that span. He was the NFL’s rushing champion in both 2016 and 2018, earning first-team All-Pro honors as a rookie. Over the last decade, he trails only Derrick Henry among the league’s rushing leaders.

To date, only 31 players have rushed for 10,000 career yards in NFL history. Sitting 1,738 yards short of that number, Elliott has a shot to join them. But no longer as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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