Ezekiel Elliott’s release from the Dallas Cowboys earlier this month was a tough (but necessary) pill to swallow. But Zeke’s unceremonious departure from Dallas shouldn’t cloud his legendary status in Cowboys history.
It feels like just yesterday Elliott’s name was called in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys selected him with the fourth overall pick, which drew some criticism initially. Many think drafting a RB that high is dangerous given how short a ball carrier’s career span is. But Zeke immediately proved Dallas made the right call.
Elliott rushed for 1,631 yards in his first season. That’s the third-highest total for a rookie in NFL history. He also led the league in average yards per game in his first three seasons.
Zeke’s list of accomplishments includes: second in Offensive Rookie of the Year, one-time All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowler and second all-time in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys.
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Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.
Ezekiel Elliott’s Decline In Dallas
Zeke was a workhorse early in his career. He eclipsed 300 touches in three of his first four seasons. The only year he didn’t surpass that mark was in year two when injuries sidelined him for six games.
Despite that, he was still a top-tier rusher and Dallas rewarded him with a six-year, $90 million contract extension ahead of the 2019 season. Unfortunately, Elliott didn’t live up to that deal.
All that heavy usage caught up with Elliott as his career progressed. His rushing and receiving yard totals have declined, despite having only missed four games since 2019.
The dropoff in Elliott’s game was only intensified by Tony Pollard waiting in the wings. Not that Pollard is to blame for it, but having a younger and more skilled player backing up Elliott made it more clear that Zeke was no longer the guy.
And Cowboys fans had been quite vocal about their urge to see Pollard surpass Elliott on the depth chart until it finally happened in 2022.
It was also more evident than ever last season that Zeke’s time in Dallas was dwindling. He was only effective in short yardage situations and as a pass blocker.
Cowboys Fans Should Be Grateful For Ezekiel Elliott
Yeah, Elliott hasn’t been his same explosive, playmaking self from his early days in Big D. And no, he certainly didn’t live up to his $90 million mega-deal.
But the wear and tear that’s slowing Zeke down now stemmed from those first few seasons when he was leading the NFL in rushing attempts. With 20/20 hindsight, Elliott would have benefitted from less carries. Not only could it have potentially prolonged his career, but it may have also given the Cowboys more seasons of high production from the RB.
Cowboys fans also shouldn’t fault Zeke for taking that monster contract. NFL players’ career spans are very short; especially RBs. They’ve got to make as much money as they can because you never know when a career-altering injury is around the corner.
Elliott’s career doesn’t warrant a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he has done enough to earn a spot in the Cowboys Ring of Honor, which currently has only 22 members.
Should Zeke’s Legacy Change If He Signs With The Eagles?
Most Cowboys fans are rooting for Elliott to succeed with his next squad. But that may be put to the test soon.
NFL insider Adam Schefter recently reported that Elliott’s list of teams he’d consider signing with has been whittled down to three options: the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals.
While it would be difficult and rather unsettling to see Zeke join the Eagles, the move shouldn’t change Cowboys fan’s opinions on him. Dallas did cut Elliott after all, so can he really be faulted for where he plays next?
It’s possible Zeke views joining the Eagles as his best shot at winning a Super Bowl, or maybe they’re offering him the most lucrative contract. Both are reasonable grounds for joining a divisional rival.