Ezekiel Elliott's fumbles make case Cowboys gave a big contract to the wrong star

Ezekiel Elliott's fumbles make case Cowboys gave a big contract to the wrong star
Video ezekiel elliott fumbles 2019

Ezekiel Elliott better have strong shoulders, because the Dallas Cowboys’ 2020 season outcome is resting firmly on his back. He’ll also need to find a better grip on the football.

Dallas is leading the terrible NFC East, but now Dak Prescott is out for the year. Elliott got the big contract he wanted before the 2019 season, but so far in 2020, he’s fumbled as many times than he’s found the end zone (and lost four fumbles compared to six touchdowns). To keep the Cowboys afloat after being blown out in Andy Dalton’s first start, Elliott will have to hold onto the football and prove that giving a RB a payday in the modern NFL can still work.

Here’s a look into why Elliott is fumbling so much, along with how giving him nearly $100 million looks a bit more than a year after the deal.

MORE: Dak Prescott’s value to Cowboys will keep rising with every epic fail by Andy Dalton, Ezekiel Elliott

Why does Ezekiel Elliott keep fumbling?

Ezekiel Elliott was asked why he keeps fumbling after the Cowboys’ Week 6 loss to the Cardinals. He’d told ESPN’s broadcasters before the game that his fumbles come in streaks, and that he “just keeps getting got,” but after the game, he didn’t have any further insight.

“Honestly, I can’t … I can’t really even, I don’t know why,” Elliott told reporters. “I’ve just got to focus up, I’ve got to be better with it.”

Yahoo Sports’ Terez Paylor broke Elliott’s fumbles down recently, and his main conclusion was that Elliott doesn’t lose fumbles just one way. Against the Cardinals, Elliott lost his first fumble after catching a pass over the middle. A defender targeted his waist area from behind and swiped through the ball as he tackled Elliott, jarring it loose. Elliott’s second fumble against Arizona came in traffic while going down, failing to secure the ball all the way to the turf.

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Elliott is also one of those running backs who likes to fight for extra yards. Those are the occasions where the football can be at its most vulnerable, and his lost fumble against the Browns came in one of those spots.

📽 Andrew Sendejo force un fumble d’Ezekiel Elliott, et Vincent Taylor récupère ! #Browns📺 @beinsports_FR📱 #NFLGamePass pic.twitter.com/CnyvfiGL9b

There have also been fumbles where Elliott has had the ball punched out or swatted away from an arm chop from up high. As Paylor noted in his piece, all but one of Elliott’s fumbles have come from simply not having the ball secured tightly enough. He can’t prevent every fumbling scenario ever, but defenders try to force many runners to fumble in the same way they have with Elliott, and it’s worked more lately with Elliott. Getting a second hand on the ball as defenders close in or clinging more tightly to the ball in close to his chest could help Elliott prevent fumbles going forward.

Elliott went with the idea of a “short memory” to explain how he’ll fix the issue going forward.

“I just need to have a short memory,” Elliott told reporters after Week 6. “I need to get that behind me, play some good ball and get on a roll.”

Ezekiel Elliott contract details

  • Years (beginning 2021): 6
  • Total money: $90 million
  • Guaranteed money: $50,052,137
  • Average annual salary: $15 million (tied-second among RBs)

Should the Cowboys have paid someone other than Zeke?

There’s a reason running backs seem like the most likely players to hold out, and why very few RBs are drafted in the first round anymore. It’s because NFL teams, in a pass-happy league, have moved toward believing that running backs are a dime a dozen.

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There are a few exceptions to the rule, like Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, who both signed big contracts recently, like Elliott. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys obviously decided Elliott warranted a payday, too, rather than seeing him leave town in flames like Le’Veon Bell from Pittsburgh.

Hindsight is certainly 20-20, but it’s fair to wonder whether they should have paid ‘Zeke the way they did. Elliott’s biggest year in the NFL remains his rookie 2016 season, when he was running behind the best offensive line in football. His yards per carry have never returned to that level, and it’s at a tied-for-career-low 4.1 yards per carry in 2020. He’s still obviously a talented player and runner, but working behind a beat-up offensive line with Dak Prescott now out for the season has shown Elliott isn’t invincible.

Elliott’s contract came, of course, at a time when both Prescott and Amari Cooper were looking for extensions. Cooper got his, but Prescott was slapped with the franchise tag. Dallas may still extend Prescott for major money, but the Cowboys have less flexibility because of the deal they gave Elliott.

Injuries change everything, but if the plan all along was for Prescott to challenge the NFL’s single-season passing yardage record in 2020 (aided by terrible defense), maybe Elliott’s decline in relative value to the Cowboys should’ve been taken more into account. It’s not an indictment on Elliott’s talent to wonder if big money should be spent away from the RB position in the modern NFL. Elliott’s relative struggles and fumble issues in 2020 have just provided another reason to second-guess where Dallas has (and hasn’t) invested its long-term dollars.

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