There’s no doubt that a lot of spotlights will be on Ezekiel Elliott in the upcoming NFL season. After two underperforming seasons, the Cowboys’ star running back will be at a pivotal point in his career. And it all boils down to one thing: deliver performance commensurate with his salary status.
It’s true that Elliott faced a similar scenario entering last season, this after posting the lowest records of his NFL career in 2020. So Zeke worked hard to arrive in the best possible physical condition. And although he started the 2021 campaign at a high level, his performance fell apart due to a partial rupture of the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee suffered in week 4. An injury that, let’s remember, he dragged on in the weeks that followed.
Now, that injury is behind him. Or at least that’s what Zeke says.
“Maybe it took me a month or two to feel 100 percent again”Elliott said in statements for the official website of the Cowboys. “I was injured last year, but that’s the sport. No one can be healthy after week 1”.
Ezekiel Elliott on a tough 2021:
— D210SPORTS (@D210S) June 4, 2022
If we look only at Ezekiel Elliott’s numbers in 2022, perhaps the situation is not worrying: 237 carries for 1,002 yards and 10 touchdowns, in addition to 47 receptions for 287 yards and two more touchdowns. In fact, Zeke was one of only seven running backs to top 1,000 rushing yards last season.
However, the story behind these numbers is different. Despite his great start to the season, Elliott’s aforementioned injury ended up affecting Dallas’ running game in 2021. An injury whose severity, let’s remember, wasn’t revealed until shortly after the Cowboys’ elimination from the playoffs. But that is not all.
Apart from Elliott’s insistence on not resting and playing injured, the coaching staff also insisted on giving him high participation in the ground attack. This, let us remember, despite the fact that Zeke was not in optimal conditions and that Tony Pollard could offer better benefits. If Zeke had stepped aside to recover during the season, maybe it would have been a different story for Dallas.
But what’s done is done. Now, Elliott aims to show a better performance this year.
“You have to change and evolve as a professional”Elliott said this week. “My training now focuses on the things I need to improve, what my deficiencies are, and where I need to be stronger”.
This was Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott last season before a partial PCL tear to right knee. Who he was before and after injury should not be confirmed. Elliott to take field this morning at OTAs. After season, Cowboys are expected to revisit his contract with him. https://t.co/aVxzjYHhMo pic.twitter.com/cRb89n7ARB
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) May 25, 2022
What is the outlook for Elliott in 2022?
Beyond Ezekiel Elliott’s desire to improve and the factors that have influenced his performance in the last two seasons, the reality is clear: the coming season will be key to his professional future. And the signs are obvious.
Remember that Elliott currently has a contract with Dallas through 2026. Besides, letting him go was not an option this year because of the impact that move would have on the salary cap. However, the picture in 2023 would be different. If Elliott is released or traded after June 1, that will only involve $5.8 million of dead money, plus a $10.9 million cap savings.
Another important point is that the Cowboys left this “escape route” intact this offseason. Given their need to improve their situation against the salary cap, the leadership restructured the contracts of Dak Prescott and Zack Martin, two pieces they have for the future. But this did not happen with the contracts of Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith, making it clear that there are many questions surrounding them.
This, in fact, is very similar to what happened recently with Amari Cooper. The team kept intact an “escape route” present in his contract for this year, conditioning his permanence on the performance he had in 2021. Not meeting expectations, Dallas decided to do without him for financial reasons and keep Michael Gallup for a price minor.
— MaximoAvance.com (@maximoavance) December 3, 2021
That story could repeat itself in the running back squad next year. Recall that Tony Pollard is in the final year of his rookie deal with the Cowboys. If Elliott doesn’t perform according to his salary and status, there will be no doubt that the leadership will opt to do without him and renew Pollard for a lower salary than Zeke.
With all of this in mind, Ezekiel Elliott has a lot to prove this year. The upcoming season will be the one to finally show whether the Dallas running back still has fuel in the tank, or whether he’s already on the decline. Beyond being one of the leaders on the team, the cowboy leadership could do without Zeke in 2023 if necessary. And this will be so as long as the escape route mentioned in his contract remains open.
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This season may be decisive for the future of Ezekiel Elliott in