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Pardon Jerry Jones if he doesn’t answer the phone this week. There’s a pretty good chance the guy on the other end will be the agent for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, calling with a simple request: “Hand it over.”

Jones’ checkbook is about to have some zeros lopped off it, courtesy of news about Ezekiel Elliott.

Ezekiel Elliott gives a jolt to Jerry Jones

There’s no reason to believe that Ezekiel Elliott won’t be ready to go when the NFL season starts – assuming the NFL season actually does start. Although Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported Monday that Elliott was one of multiple NFL players to be diagnosed with COVID-19, the agent for the Dallas Cowboys running back said Elliott is feeling well.

The COVID-19 death toll in the United States is over 100,000, but young and strong athletes like Elliott are less likely to be hit hard by the virus, so it’s easy to envision him arriving at training camp on schedule next month– again, assuming that the NFL season isn’t headed for a forced sabbatical.

But the news about Elliott serves as a reminder that the difference between a 10-6 season and one that ends with a 6-10 record instead is very small.

Elliott has been a workhorse running back for the Cowboys since arriving from Ohio State in 2016 as the fourth overall selection in the draft. He’s twice led the NFL in rushing yards in a season and has carried 300 or more times in a season three times. He already has 5,405 yards and 40 touchdowns on the ground while also proving himself to be a reliable set of hands out of the backfield with 189 receptions.

In short, he’s a valuable asset and doesn’t hit the dreaded 30-yer-old threshold – the supposed death knell for the careers of running backs until 2026.

Dak Prescott’s case for getting paid is a bit stronger now

If a star running back is important to NFL success, then an outstanding quarterback is crucial. So, just the remote possibility of having to ponder life minus Ezekiel Elliott should scare the life out of Jerry Jones with respect to settling the contract situation of quarterback Dak Prescott.

The Dallas Cowboys have applied the franchise tag to Prescott and will pay him $31.4 million, assuming he shows up. The sides have a month to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, and the question all along has been whether Jones is taking seriously the possibility that the two-time Pro Bowl selection might hold out.

The Cowboys’ insurance policy comes in the form of Andy Dalton, cut loose by the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s not the worst Plan B in the world, especially in a division where the competition consists of the Philadelphia Eagles and two very messed-up also-rans, but it also sounds like the recipe for a second straight 8-8 season.

But the latest Ezekiel Elliott development allows Dak Prescott to offer a simple reminder to Jerry Jones: Having your running back get sick in June isn’t nearly as bad as having your quarterback disgruntled in September.

The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of money on the line


Michael Irvin Believes Jerry Jones Should Give Dak Prescott the ‘Back Pay’ He Deserves

For what it’s worth, Jerry Jones had the right idea in his negotiations with Dak Prescott. The coronavirus scare hit at the worst possible time for other leagues – the NBA and NHL were in progress and MLB was rapidly approaching the start of its season. But NFL owners had the advantage of being able to wait to get a sense of how the pandemic might affect the 2020 season.

In that context, Jones didn’t want to hand Dak Prescott $185 million or more over five years until the mid-July deadline. He reasonably expected to know by then whether his Dallas Cowboys would be allowed to play in front of fans this fall – an important issue for a franchise that Forbes says makes more money from NFL home games than any other team.

If stadiums are empty, or even half-full, for the 2020 season, then the 2021 salary cap takes a big hit. Jones understandably doesn’t want t commit to more than $35 million to Prescott next season if he thinks the salary cam will plummet from $200 million to $150 million.

Bloodletting by teams with big-salary quarterbacks could set teams back several years, which Jones wants to avoid.

But the Ezekiel Elliott scare changes the dynamics. It reminds Jones just how quickly a star player can disappear, whether it’s a running back falling ill in 2020 or a quarterback walking away in 2021.

It also reminds Prescott that his own health isn’t worth risking for the $31.4 million this fall when a knee or shoulder injury could cost him double or triple that on his next contract.