From contracting COVID-19 to threatening to sue Sports Illustrated, it certainly has not been a quiet offseason for Ezekiel Elliott. The star running back for the Dallas Cowboys enters his fifth NFL season with plenty of pressure to live up to his $90 million contract. Of course, he earned that lucrative extension by carrying the load on offense since his rookie year.
Given the wear and tear running backs sustain during the season, teams usually employ a rotation to keep their tailbacks fresh. And recently, Elliott admitted his true feelings about the Cowboys cutting his carries. Only his stance may surprise Dallas fans.
Ezekiel Elliott has carried the offense for years
Following a fantastic career at Ohio State, Ezekiel Elliott entered the 2016 NFL draft as one of the top available prospects. Though teams rarely spend top-10 picks on running backs, Jerry Jones could not pass over the dynamic offensive weapon. Since he arrived in Dallas as the fourth overall selection, Elliott has carried an offense that underwent a huge transition after Tony Romo retired.
In his rookie season, the 6-foot, 228-pounder led the NFL in carries (322) and rushing yards (1,631). Elliott and fellow rookie Dak Prescott carried the Cowboys to a surprising 13-3 record and an NFC East title. However, Dallas lost to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round.
Elliott played just 10 games in 2017 due to a personal conduct-related suspension. Dallas failed to make the playoffs.
However, the Cowboys returned to the postseason in 2018 thanks in large part to their star running back. Elliott once again paced the NFL in carries and rushing yards. He also set career-highs in catches (77), receiving yards (567) and receiving touchdowns (3).
Last season, Elliott surpassed 300 carries for the third time in his career. Still, his 1,357 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns could not push the Cowboys into the playoffs. Dallas went just 8-8, fired the perennially disappointing Jason Garrett, and hired Mike McCarthy to usher in a new era of football.
Elliott admits his true feelings about the Cowboys cutting his carries
Given his elite production and athletic ability, it would make sense for Ezekiel Elliott to demand the ball on every snap. Inherently, running backs have to be somewhat selfish in that regard. But even as a true bell-cow back, Elliott won’t let his individual success take precedence over winning.
In speaking with 105.3 The Fan, the three-time Pro Bowler discussed his workload and how it relates to his team’s success. And in doing so, he revealed his true feelings about the Cowboys cutting his carries.
“If they ever came to me and asked me to come split carries, I’m gonna do whatever they ask me to do to win,” Elliott said. “That’s my No. 1 thing. I love being a bell cow. I love getting the rock 30 times a game. But whatever this team needs me to do to win, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
That message certainly should ease any concerns for Cowboys fans who worried that Elliott may not be on board with a reduced workload. However, taking the ball out of his hands does not mean Dallas can’t have success on offense.
In fact, given their embarrassment of riches at wide receiver, the Cowboys could feature one of the NFL’s most potent passing attacks. And that balance could make all the difference between another early playoff exit and a successful Super Bowl run.
A balanced offense could lead to a Super Bowl title
Heading into the 2020 NFL season, the Cowboys boast enormous upside. On offense, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott headline a unit loaded with talent across the board. On defense, a front four anchored by DeMarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen should terrorize quarterbacks. Plus, Aldon Smith could remind everyone why he looked like a future Hall of Famer in San Francisco.
Ultimately, the Cowboys should have a much more balanced offense given the addition of CeeDee Lamb. Dallas could easily boast three 1,000-yard receivers. Plus, tight end Blake Jarwin looks like a rising star.
At the end of the day, though, Dallas needs Elliott in prime form to make a legitimate Super Bowl run. Even if he does not reach 300 carries again, that may actually benefit the team. Second-year running back Tony Pollard looked like a potential star himself in limited action last season. The speedy, explosive playmaker tips the scales at 6-foot, 209 pounds and can both run and catch the ball out of the backfield.
An Elliott-Pollard tandem could inflict serious damage this season. It would allow the former to stay fresh for the postseason while giving the latter more opportunities to prove himself. We will have to see how Mike McCarthy divides the workload, but based on Ezekiel Elliott’s comments, all that matters is winning on Sundays.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.