Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout is over. According to multiple reports Wednesday, the Cowboys and their superstar running back have agreed to terms on a six-year, $90 million extension that includes $50 million guaranteed. Elliott’s deal sets the new benchmark in average annual value at his position, with his $15 million figure topping the $14 million-plus mark Todd Gurley secured after getting an extension from the Rams in July 2018. With Week 1 days away, the Cowboys are now set to enter this fall with their full complement of playmakers who helped them go 8-2 over their final 10 games last season.
On the one hand, this seems like it was inevitable. Owner Jerry Jones has never shied away from paying his highest-profile players, and Elliott has produced at an All-Pro level since coming to Dallas with the no. 4 pick in the 2016 draft. He led the league in rushing in 2016 and 2018, surpassing 1,400 yards in both of those campaigns. No other NFL back has reached that total in any of the last three seasons.
On the other hand, running back value has been the subject of interminable debate for the last few years, and let’s just say the results so far don’t align with this Cowboys decision. The Gurley deal already looks foolish. Across the league, teams are committing fewer and fewer dollars to the position, instead choosing to spend on players who can contribute in myriad ways and play-callers who can deploy them creatively. Football is going the way of Moneyball; Dallas, apparently, is not.
The Cowboys are betting that Elliott will transcend the overarching running back trend. They’re hoping that he can continue to thrive behind an offensive line featuring Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and the newly paid La’el Collins, and that first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore can get the most out of a loaded group of skill-position players. With Elliott, quarterback Dak Prescott, and receiver Amari Cooper in tow, Dallas should be positioned to compete for an NFC East title this season. If its defense can take the next step after a breakthrough 2018, the Cowboys could join the Rams and Saints among the conference’s elite and perhaps vie for their first Super Bowl since Jones’s first decade owning the team. By valuing a running back like it’s the mid-1990s, maybe Dallas can return to the heights it experienced during those glory years.
The long-term outlook is murkier. If it seems like the Cowboys have been on a lavish spending spree lately, well, that’s because they have been. And now that Elliott, Collins, pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence, and linebacker Jaylon Smith have all locked up pricey new deals, it’s fair to wonder how much will be left over for Prescott, Cooper, and defensive backs Byron Jones and Jeff Heath during their respective negotiations. Prescott is likely to command a contract similar to the one that Jared Goff just signed in Los Angeles; if all of the Cowboys stars cash in, Dallas could have a tough time maintaining the depth necessary to keep this roster competitive.
For now, though, Elliott will return to practice, and the team will prepare for Sunday’s matchup against the Giants looking to pick up where it left off last season. This extension may not align with leaguewide financial strategy du jour, but Zeke isn’t like most other running backs—and Jerry Jones certainly isn’t like most other owners and general managers.