While there have been rumors swirling about Ezekiel Elliott's future in Dallas beyond 2022, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy reiterated the veteran running back's importance to the offense while speaking with reporters Wednesday.
"Ezekiel Elliott is one of our rocks on this team," McCarthy said. "He's a keystone player. … You need those types of individuals to win championships."
Last week, 105.3 The Fan Cowboys insider Bobby Belt suggested on the Washington Football Talk podcast (h/t Peter Hailey of NBC Sports) that Elliott's time in Dallas could come to an end after the 2022 season because of his contract:
"Zeke could rush for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns this year and I think he's still probably done here. They need to move on. That contract has been such an albatross for them, one of the worst deals in football and, as much as they love his toughness and things like that, it's about time to rip off the Band-Aid. He's not the same player anymore."
Elliott signed a six-year, $90 million deal with the Cowboys in September 2019 after posting two seasons with at least 1,400 rushing yards in his first three years in the NFL.
The 27-year-old also posted 1,357 rushing yards in 2019, but his efforts over the last two seasons haven't been as impressive.
In 2020, he rushed for 979 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. He then rushed for 1,002 yards and 10 scores in 17 games last season. With his game appearing to be on the decline, it's hard to imagine the Cowboys would want to keep him around with his cap hit set to be at least $14 million over the next four campaigns.
The Cowboys also have Tony Pollard, and he will come at a much cheaper price than Elliott when he becomes a free agent after the 2022 season. Pollard impressed in 2021, rushing for 719 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry compared to Elliott's 4.2.
Dallas can get rid of Elliott's contract in spring 2023 by eating $11.9 million. That's not ideal, and it doesn't seem like the franchise wants to part ways with him anyway. Cowboys COO Stephen Jones also said in February that Elliott was a valuable asset to the team.
"I want that guy on my team. You talk about playing through some injuries," Jones said. "He's a competitor. I think he's a damn good running back. … Obviously, his money is guaranteed. He's going to be here; there's no question. We're fortunate to have him."