The Dallas Cowboys have three key offensive players who will be seeking major long-term extensions in the near future: quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
And Elliott reportedly isn't willing to wait very long. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, "Elliott has privately said that he will hold out of training camp unless he gets a new contract."
Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports later added that Elliott hasn't made a decision but is "absolutely thinking it through and definitely wants an extension in the works. This was going to be a week where he and his people laid out their options and made continued overtures to the Cowboys."
Robinson also noted: "Elliott knows his value is at a high point right now and wants to protect himself with a long-term deal, because he’s expecting to carry the load in a big way this season."
Elliott's push for a new deal "wouldn't be a surprise" to the Cowboys, per Robinson, as the "lines of communication" have been open for more than a month, with Robinson noting Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones is "running point in talks."
Per Robinson, if the Cowboys make a "serious push" to ink an extension, it would impact if Elliott shows up for training camp.
On one hand, Elliott has performed like not only an elite running back but an elite offensive player, period. His per-game average of 131.1 yards from scrimmage and 0.8 touchdowns translates to 2,097 yards from scrimmage and 12 scores in a 16-game season.
He's now rushed for at least 1,400 yards in two of his three seasons and likely would have done so in 2017 as well if he hadn't been suspended for six games.
But the Cowboys have other factors to consider. For one, Elliott has been no stranger to off-field issues during his brief NFL career. Committing major money to Elliott means Dallas has to be fully convinced he'll no longer present any concerns when he isn't in the building.
The running back position has also been devalued in the modern NFL. The highest-paid player at the position in terms of average salary is Todd Gurley, at $14.3 million. That ranks 62nd in the NFL, per Spotrac.com.
Le'Veon Bell, another elite running back, signed with the New York Jets this offseason and will average $13.1 million on his contract. He held out an entire year to escape Pittsburgh before getting a deal that was reportedly below the five-year, $70 million deal Pittsburgh offered him (though that deal only included $10 million in guaranteed money, far less than the $35 million he got in New York).
Elliott will surely want more than either Gurley or Bell, and depending on how Melvin Gordon's holdout resolves, would likely want to exceed him as well if he signs a long-term extension with the Los Angeles Chargers. The Cowboys, meanwhile, may be wary to dramatically exceed anything the other top running backs have received.
Elliott isn't the only priority. Both Prescott and Cooper are going to get paid in a big way at some point, be it in Dallas or not, though it's hard to imagine Dallas parting ways with their franchise quarterback. Prescott can be earmarked for a deal that will assuredly pay him upwards of $30 million per year.
Plus, linebacker Jaylon Smith is up for an extension at some point as well, and the Cowboys already committed a five-year, $105 million deal to defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Dallas has some major financial decisions to make in the coming years, especially with Prescott and Cooper both eligible to be unrestricted free agents after this season.
Elliott is perhaps hoping to force the issue this offseason. But with the Cowboys having Elliott under contract through the 2020 season and capable of using the franchise tag after that, making an enormous financial commitment to him this summer—before players like Prescott and Cooper have extensions themselves—may not be in the cards.