The 2019 NFL Training Camp is well underway. But one key player is missing from the Dallas Cowboys training camp. That player is last season’s leading rusher and Pro Bowler, running back Ezekiel Elliott. In April the Cowboys picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Elliott however wants to get paid like the best running back in the league and is sitting out of camp until he gets a new deal. This seems on the surface to be a war of attrition between player/agent and ownership. But a deal before Week 1 is the most likely scenario. However, in the event that a deal does not get completed prior to the start of the season, what implications would that have for the team?
Next Back Up
A very obvious deficit that the Cowboys would have without Elliott suited up, is the lack of a starting running back. Elliot led the league in 2018 with 1,434 yards rushing. That’s a huge chunk of production! As it stands now, the two running backs sitting behind Elliott on the depth chart are both rookies.
Tony Pollard was the fourth-round draft pick (128th overall) of the Cowboys out of Memphis. And Mike Weber was their seventh-round pick (218th overall) out of Ohio State. Both of those players had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in their final college seasons. Therefore, both could make an impact if given the opportunity. However, it’s probably a safe bet to say that neither one of them will break 1,000 yards rushing in their respective rookie seasons. So, without Elliott there will be a whole lot left to be desired from the running game. The Cowboy’s running game will thus become a secondary option to the passing game, rather than the primary attack it has been the past three seasons.
Another key storyline from this offseason is quarterback Dak Prescott and if he will get a new contract. Prescott has played extremely well in his first three seasons, leading the Cowboys to winning records in each of them. But another player who was along for the ride all three of those seasons… Elliott. There are those NFL pundits who are team Prescott and those who are team Elliott. Each side arguing which player had a larger impact on the Cowboys recent successes. But if Elliott sits, Prescott is front and center and will be asked to do more to help his team win games.
Last season Prescott threw for 3,885 yards and 22 touchdowns. That placed him at 15th in yardage and 16th in touchdowns amongst quarterbacks. Both of those stats have him right in middle of the pack. Some may argue that without Elliott, his increased role in the offense would only boost those numbers. But without opposing defenses focusing on Elliott, safeties would be less inclined to come up and help stop the run. They would have the luxury of focusing on defending the passing game. That could prove problematic for Prescott, but even more so for his star receiver.
Cooper and Co.
Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper had 1,005 yards receiving last season. He would likely see a decline in productivity as well with Elliot’s absence. Primary focus would be put on him by defenders, and the next two receivers on the depth chart, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb would be forced to make plays. Gallup is in his second year, after a modest rookie season. But he never really showed big playmaking abilities in year one. Cobb is entering his ninth NFL season and his best years stat-wise seem to be behind him. Therefore, the argument is strong that without the contributions of Elliott, the Cowboys offense could take a dip in efficiency and productivity in 2019.
NFL fans are very familiar with Elliott’s “feed me” celebration. But now he is literally asking the Cowboys organization to feed him, in terms of a new contract. In all likelihood the two sides will come to an agreement before the season opener against the New York Giants. Elliott is too big of an asset to the team to let him sit out a whole season. When the new contract gets done though is up in the air, but it will most likely get done sooner than later. An exact timeframe is unknown. But don’t be surprised to see him in camp before the conclusion of the preseason.