In 1993, Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith held out. He was unhappy with his contractual arrangement with the team that drafted him, the Dallas Cowboys. Entering his fourth year as one of the NFL’s most promising young backs, Emmitt wanted a new deal.
He didn’t show up to training camp. The Cowboys started the regular season without him… 0-2.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed. An agreement was reached and Smith came back to play in Week Three. The Cowboys finished the regular season 12-4, ultimately winning Super Bowl XXVIII. Emmitt Smith would be named that year’s Super Bowl MVP.
This post does not presume that Ezekiel Elliott is (yet) the caliber of the NFL’s all-time leading rusher but the 2019 Cowboys find themselves in a very familiar predicament.
Their first-round draft pick of 2016, who has led the league in rushing two of the last three seasons, is demanding a new contract. He currently makes just shy of $4 million but is looking to make a whole lot more before his rookie contract ends. He understands, as he should, that the lifespan of an NFL running back is paper thin.
As of right now, Ezekiel Elliott has no plans to take another snap until his needs are met.
What the Cowboys brass, aka Jerry Jones, currently has to decide during this tumultuous and potentially ugly break up is… is Elliott worth what he’s asking? The owner of the NFL’s most valuable franchise is in the process of determining Elliott’s net worth in both dollars and wins, which are only sometimes interchangeable. Just ask the New York Knicks. In the three years they spent together, with Elliott as their battering ram, the Cowboys looked like they had finally formed another formidable offense.
That offense has now come into question.
During this Texas standoff, both parties have proven ready to draw their guns. Zeke must ultimately determine whether the Cowboys are worth his time, effort and health, whether dealing with the way they conduct their business is worth it considering the number of other suitors that might be willing to offer him what he feels he deserves. Likewise, the Cowboys are crunching those same numbers from their perspective.
Sometimes these stories have a happy ending, like in the Emmitt Smith situation twenty-five years ago. Sometimes, they do not. As in any relationship, personal or professional, both parties must find a happy, level-headed medium. Knowing what he knows about how the organization is run, is Ezekiel Elliott willing to come to terms with what the Cowboys will give? On the flipside, how much value to the Cowboys give Mr. Elliott or do they see ultimately themselves better off without him?
Ezekiel Elliott is looking for a commitment the Cowboys might not be willing to reciprocate. The state of this relationship sucks for all parties as this standstill looks like it might last a while. It sucks for fantasy football players who wonder whether to draft one of the most talented backs in football. It sucks for football fans, particularly those of the Dallas Cowboys variety, who assume their success will rise or fall depending on whether Elliott carries the ball twenty-five times a game. It sucks for the organization who once had an incredibly marketable and talented athlete to wear on their arm and now no longer do. The organization can pretend all they want that they’ll be better without him but there is no denying they just might not. And it sucks for Zeke who doesn’t get to play the game he loves. He has drawn a line in the sand with a solid understanding of his own net worth and will not settle for a penny less.
Calmer heads may prevail… or they may not. Ezekiel Elliott may be perfectly fine sitting out the rest of his contract. Running backs’ shelf lives are short and invaluable. In the meantime, the Cowboys have a void they need to fill.
They may or may not figure this out. Ezekiel Elliott’s camp has his back. Those within the Cowboys organization understand this is a business and at this point are fully prepared to move on without him. They are taking a hardline approach.
So… where does this leave us? Will both sides reconcile? I guess we’ll just have to find out. I can’t help but wonder if the odds are against it.