One of the most famous Cowboys faces is no longer a Cowboy.
Less than an hour before the start of the new league season, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero report that Dallas has formally released Ezekiel Elliot.
According to Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Wednesday morning, Ezekiel Elliott was likely to leave Dallas. Elliott played for the Cowboys for seven seasons and was selected as an AP All-Pro as a rookie. He has now appeared in three Pro Bowls and twice finished first in the NFL in rushing yards.
Although it may come as a surprise to some, Elliott was released by the Cowboys after a disappointing year. He had 876 rushing yards, a career low, and lacked the same explosion as before.
So was Elliott’s release related to anything other than his performance? Dallas made the decision to release a player after seven seasons in which he had served as a club icon.
The Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott, but why?
The Cowboys’ choice to dismiss Ezekiel Elliott was made for three key reasons.
First, Elliott has become less effective in recent seasons. One of the top runners in the NFL at the start of his career was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, who led the league in running yards in each of his first two seasons while averaging a more than respectable 4.6 yards per carry. He also failed to surpass 1,000 yards rushing just once while scoring 12 touchdowns on average each season.
But Elliott has only gained 4.0 yards per rush on average over the previous three seasons. In that time, he has continued to be a valuable goal-line back, scoring 28 touchdowns on the ground, although he has only ever amassed more than 1,000 running yards once. He completed 1,002 yards in total throughout the course of 17 games in 2021, when that happened.
Tony Pollard’s development into a starting-caliber back has further exposed Elliott’s decline as a runner. During the course of his first four seasons, Pollard averaged a staggering 5.1 yards per rush for the Cowboys and was an explosive playmaker. As you can see in the table below, he significantly outperformed the veteran in 2022 despite earning fewer touches than Elliott.
|Stat||Tony Pollard||Ezekiel Elliott|
|Yards per carry||5.2||3.8|
The Cowboys slapped Pollard with the franchise tag during the 2023 offseason and clearly view the soon-to-be 26-year-old as an important piece of the franchise’s future. He’s younger than Elliott (27) and has fresher legs than the veteran. As such, it’s no surprise that Pollard is getting the nod over Elliott.
But Elliott’s decline alone wouldn’t have been enough for Jerry Jones to part ways with him. After all, the Dallas owner is loyal to guys who have been franchise players for him in the past.
However, Elliott was on an expensive contract that he signed with the Cowboys during the 2019 offseason. The deal is set to run through his age-31 season, so keeping him at a high price tag for the remaining four years of that contract would be an untenable situation for Dallas.
In the offseason of 2023, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Pollard, signaling their obvious belief that the soon-to-be 26-year-old is an essential part of the team’s future. He has younger legs than Elliott (27), who is older and more seasoned. As a result, it is not surprising that Pollard was chosen over Elliott.
Yet, Jerry Jones wouldn’t have cut ties with Elliott simply because of his downturn. After all, the owner of Dallas is devoted to players who have previously served as his franchise players.
But, Elliott has a pricey contract with the Cowboys that he inked in 2019 summer. The agreement will last until his age-31 season, keeping him at a high price for the following four years.