Want to know why NFL teams are so scared of giving running backs big long-term contracts? One big example: In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys signed Ezekiel Elliott to a six-year, $90 million extension. That proved to be a major mistake, as Elliott's production started to fall off as soon as 2020. Even though Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had said he hoped to bring Elliott back on a reworked contract, his fate probably was sealed when Dallas used the franchise tag on Tony Pollard. Multiple reports say Elliott is likely to be released, and SportsLine offers odds on his next team.
Elliott, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, had one of the great rookie seasons for a running back in league history. He rushed 322 times for 1,631 yards and 15 scores while catching 32 passes for 363 yards and a touchdown. He led the league in rushing yards, was named first-team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl, but didn't even win Offensive Rookie of the Year. His teammate Dak Prescott did. Elliott would win another rushing title in 2018 and was named to the Pro Bowl that season and in 2019, but it has been all downhill since then. All those carries and hits started taking a toll on Elliott's body.
While Elliott averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry in three of his first four seasons, he hasn't come close to that since and had only 876 yards on 231 carries last year. He did have 12 TDs, but that was largely because Elliott was used as the goal-line back. He was a non-factor in the passing game (where Pollard shined) with 17 catches for all of 92 yards. Elliott played the final 10 games of the season with a brace on the knee. By midseason, it was clear Pollard had surpassed Elliott as the lead option. Pollard ranked fourth among running backs last year in yards per touch (5.9), while Elliott was last (3.9).
When the Cowboys gave Pollard the franchise tag of $10.1 million, it jumped the team's running back room to an NFL-record high $27.68 million in 2023 if Elliott had stayed on his non-guaranteed $10.4 million base salary. Releasing Elliott as a post-June 1 cut, which is the expectation, will save the Cowboys more than $10 million against the salary cap. If they released Elliott now, it would save the team $4.86 million.
Elliott would end his Dallas career with 8,262 rushing yards, 68 rushing TDs and 80 total TDs, ranking third in franchise history in all three categories behind Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett. Neither of them finished their career with the Cowboys, either. Elliott's last play with Dallas was memorable for all the wrong reasons: In the divisional round 19-12 loss to San Francisco on the game's final play, he lined up as the center in a very unusual formation, snapped the ball to Prescott and was blown up on a gimmick play that couldn't have flopped worse.
So where might Elliott go? This is trickier than looking at potential options for 2022 Pro Bowl running back Miles Sanders of the Eagles. While Sanders is only 25, while Elliott will be 28 in July and has nearly 2,200 combined touches in his regular-season career, plus many more in the preseason and postseason (and unofficial touches wiped out by penalty). The Cowboys never came close to a Super Bowl in Elliott's tenure, so that might be his first priority.
Elliott could be a solid compliment to pass-catching Austin Ekeler with the LA Chargers -- if the Bolts don't trade Ekeler, that is. Former Dallas offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is now in the same role in LA.
Kansas City appears to have its back of the future in Isiah Pacheco, who rushed for 830 yards and five TDs as a seventh-round rookie, but Andy Reid always likes using multiple backs. Elliott could be a backup in Cleveland to Nick Chubb in the role that free agent Kareem Hunt used to serve in.
Buffalo has been linked to both Sanders and Lions free agent Jamaal Williams, but Elliott might come cheaper and require just a one-year deal. If Elliott wants to stay in Texas, he could serve as a mentor of sorts to Houston's Dameon Pierce, who had a fine rookie year but eventually got hurt.
Baltimore loves to collect running backs and often needs to because their tailbacks tend to get injured – presumed No. 1 JK Dobbins, another former Ohio State star, has played in just 23 total games due to injury since he was a 2020 second-round pick.
Star players might flock to the New York Jets. Elliott might not seem to be fit there, but could help fill in early in the season while Breece Hall recovers from his torn ACL. And if Aaron Rodgers is indeed going to be a Jet and wants Elliott, Rodgers probably gets him.
Jacksonville is a team on the rise and there's no state tax in Florida. Could Elliott serve as Travis Etienne insurance?
Via SportsLine oddsmakers: Which team will sign Ezekiel Elliott?
- Chargers +300
- Bills +400
- Chiefs +500
- Ravens +600
- Browns +800
- Jets +1000
- Texans +1100
- Saints +1200
- Jaguars +1500
- Rams +1700
- Bears +2000
So which 2023 Fantasy baseball busts, breakouts, and sleepers should you target or fade in your drafts? Visit SportsLine's Fantasy baseball cheat sheets now to get rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Joey Votto's disappointing season, and find out.
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