Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters Thursday that he's expecting star running back Ezekiel Elliott to miss regular-season games in the midst of the former Ohio State star's current contract holdout.
"I'm operating as though right now he's going to miss regular-season games," Jones said. "My entire expectation for what we're putting together as a team right now would anticipate with him holding out and not having any training camp that he's going to miss games. I just accept that."
Jones also said he doesn't expect Elliott to miss the entire season and that the Cowboys will be "needing Zeke" and are "better" with him playing.
However, a deal doesn't seem likely in the near future, with Todd Archer of ESPN.com reporting the following:
"The Cowboys and Elliott's representatives have had talks in recent days but nothing appears imminent, according to sources. Near the start of training camp, the Cowboys made Elliott an offer that would make him the second-highest paid running back in the NFL behind Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams."
Elliott, who did not report to training camp, has two more seasons remaining on his current contract after the Cowboys picked up his fifth-year option, according to Over the Cap. He signed a four-year, $25 million deal as a rookie with a $16.4 million signing bonus. He's slated to make $9.1 million in 2020 before entering free agency.
Of course, Elliott's rookie deal pales in comparison to some other top names who have received fat second contracts, per Over the Cap, including the Los Angeles Rams' Todd Gurley ($14.4 million per year), the New York Jets' Le'Veon Bell ($13.1 million) and the Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson ($13 million).
Elliott is one of the game's top offensive weapons and led the league in rushing in 2016 and 2018. He has 5,247 scrimmage yards and 34 touchdowns in his first three seasons despite missing eight games.
Elliott can make a case for being the league's most productive back, and it's no surprise that he'd like to be paid as such.
It's unclear how much Elliott wants to be paid, but this retweet of a message from former Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas provides a clue:
The difference between a contract value below Gurley's and one that is 15 to 20 percent higher than the Rams back's is quite vast, meaning that Jones' comments about Elliott missing multiple games this season as the holdout drags on may ring true.
If so, expect Tony Pollard to be the Week 1 starter. The versatile rookie back out of Memphis rushed 15 times for 84 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games. He had 1,010 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns on just 117 touches during his junior year.
Pollard has the same advantage Elliott has enjoyed, in that he gets to run behind a stout offensive line featuring left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick, who is making his return after missing the 2018 season with Guillain–Barre syndrome.
Perhaps the Cowboys won't skip a beat with Pollard in the backfield, especially considering that the schedule doesn't get too difficult on paper until late November. Eight of the Cowboys' first 10 games are against teams that did not make the playoffs last year.
We'll find out how the Cowboys will do this season with or without Elliott beginning on Sept. 8 when they host the New York Giants.
Should Elliott's holdout stretch longer than one week, Dallas visits Washington in Week 2, hosts the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 and travels to the New Orleans Saints in Week 4 to close out the first quarter of the season.
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