The question was a simple one: Of the three Cowboys stars in quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Amari Cooper, which one do you prioritize paying, since it's difficult (virtually impossible) to pay all three top dollar?
Three team executives were asked what they'd do, and their answers, frankly, were both surprising and unified. The answers also showed that while the NFL still values quarterbacks above all others, there are a handful of players at other positions who are viewed by some teams as equally potent.
The arguments from these executives went like this:
- Prescott is good and talented, but he won't ever be great (their view, not mine).
- Cooper is good and talented, but it's still easier to find receivers with his capabilities in the draft and they'd be cheaper (their view, not mine).
- Elliott is seen as different. To these executives and others, he is potentially a transformational back. One said he already is. They see him as practically unstoppable because he can create his own openings when holes in the line aren't there. They say he's mostly durable, extremely productive and, at just 23 years old, has a minimum of five good years left at a high level. In three years, he's amassed 4,048 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns.
It is Elliott who makes Prescott and Cooper, not the other way around.
Again, this is somewhat surprising because of how teams value quarterbacks, but the general belief of these executives—and this is key—is that Elliott is the only one of the Dallas trio who can truly consistently create his own offense—and do so in a spectacular way.
This is the view stated by a few people from across the huge corporation that is professional football; it's not a thorough survey. Yet, I don't think these executives are alone. I think this is becoming (or already has been) a common belief.
The team executives note one huge caveat with Elliott, and that's his off-field conduct.
Elliott has churned out those on-field numbers despite missing six games in 2017 after being suspended by the league for alleged domestic violence. In a statement at the time, the NFL said: "The commissioner determined that the credible evidence established that Elliott engaged in conduct that violated NFL policy."
Elliott's suspension, and an incident at a concert recently in which he was handcuffed, gives some of these executives pause. But, one said, it's "a minor pause." They don't believe Elliott has any type of serious problem, though no one really knows if that's accurate.
What's clear is that the Cowboys have the 21st-century Triplets with their own modern versions of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. They have offensive weapons in a league that caters to offense.
There are valid arguments that say the Cowboys could potentially pay them all (including this one from Joel Corry at CBS Sports). But there is massive disagreement about this.
Some teams believe it is both nearly impossible and highly impractical for a team to pay three offensive stars top dollar. Could the Cowboys do it? Yes. Would it be smart? No, teams tell me. It would just be too much money assigned to three players. Really incredible players, but still just three, and all of them on offense.
The Cowboys will have to make some tough choices. Actually, some brutal ones. They may have to choose which one to pay the most.
That player just might be Elliott.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.