Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reaffirmed the team's commitment to Ezekiel Elliott and said the star running back is "in the best shape he's ever been in."
Jones spoke about Elliott on ESPN's First Take on Thursday:
"Zeke probably was the all-time leader running with the football being hurt, playing the position being hurt. His protection, which is critical here for No. 4, but his protection's outstanding. There is no question he was limited. Nobody wanted to say that, but he was very limited. He's in the best shape he's ever been in. Now, it is still a fact, we go as Zeke goes. I know it's a lot on [Dak Prescott's] shoulders, but we go as Zeke goes. He's very capable of being everything we've ever wanted him to be."
Elliott is coming off a disappointing 2021 season. Although he eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground for the fourth time in six years, his 58.9 rushing yards per game were a career low. Football Outsiders ranked him 11th among running backs in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement).
Following the team's wild-card round loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the three-time Pro Bowler revealed he had been playing through a partially torn PCL. He said he initially suffered the injury in a Week 4 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Now that he's fully healthy again, the stage could be set for another big campaign for Elliott. Based on Jones' comments, the Cowboys plan to give him plenty of touches as well.
Dallas Cowboys @dallascowboys
Someone get this man a 🍽❗️ <a href="https://twitter.com/EzekielElliott?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EzekielElliott</a>’s ready to E-A-T❗️<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DALvsLAC?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DALvsLAC</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/AmericanAir?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AmericanAir</a> <a href="https://t.co/rocDCRkiPt">pic.twitter.com/rocDCRkiPt</a>
Still, there are plenty of people who believe Elliott's best days are behind him and that his time in Dallas could be approaching its terminus.
"He is still on the poster of the marketing materials, but I have a very difficult time seeing Zeke back in 2023 unless something happens that never happens in the NFL—a running back finds explosion again after it being gone for a few years," The Athletic's Bob Sturm wrote on Aug. 18.
If the Cowboys designated Elliott as a post-June 1 cut next offseason, they'd carry $5.8 million against the salary cap in 2023 and $6 million in 2024, per Spotrac. But they'd also save $10.9 million next season, so moving on wouldn't be cost-prohibitive.
Elliott turned 27 in July, and running backs don't tend to age well as they get closer to their 30s. Per Stathead, his 1,938 touches since 2016 are the most in the NFL over that span as well, nearly 400 more than the next-closest player (Melvin Gordon).
Jones is saying the right things about Elliott now, but let's see whether his tone changes once the Cowboys have a potential out in 2023.