Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott may be the odd man out with the Cowboys

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper all want big contracts from the Cowboys. Don’t be surprised if it’s Zeke who gets left out in the cold.

The Cowboys have a problem a lot of NFL franchises would love to have, but it’s a problem all the same. Jerry Jones and company want to lock up Dak Prescot, Ezekiel Eliott and Amari Cooper to bumper new contracts, but the salary cap may force the franchise to sacrifice one of their big name offensive stars.

Each player has a legitimate case to claim he’s one of the top players at his respective position. That doesn’t mean the Cowboys are going to break the bank for any one of the three. The team’s executive vice president Stephen Jones recently went on record with his definitive claim that the Cowboys were “not going to be a market-setter” with any of their new contracts. In other words, each player’s potential new deal will need to fit into the framework of what their peers are already making.

The franchise will certainly enter negotiations with the hope that they can keep everyone. That doesn’t mean it’s possible. Remember, there are prominent defensive players that will need to receive new deals during the same time frame. Specifically, Jaylon Smith and Byron Jones will be looking to cash in on their stellar play. It’s highly unlikely the Cowboys will choose to pay all of their offensive stars big money while they allow their defensive stalwarts to depart via free agency.

Prescott will almost certainly be the team’s top priority. Jones and his front office are not going to allow a quarterback who is the current face of the franchise to leave. Even though Prescott isn’t necessarily an elite player at his position, he’s still going to get big money from Dallas. His new deal shouldn’t exceed the $35 million Russell Wilson is averaging with his latest contract, but don’t be surprised if it comes in above $30 million per season.

Paying that kind of premium for Prescott could easily force the Cowboys to choose between Elliott and Cooper. There’s no question that Elliott is the more dynamic player. He’s arguably the top running back in the NFL while no one would make that claim about Cooper at the wide receiver position. Even so, the lack of value placed on the running back position by NFL teams at the moment could force Elliott to test the free agency market.

Expect the Cowboys to view the deal the Rams gave Todd Gurley as a cautionary tale. Los Angeles is paying the 25-year-old running back over $14 million per season. Unfortunately for Sean McVay and company, it’s already looking like a bad contract. Questions about Gurley’s health are already making the Rams regret devoting significant resources to the position.

The Cowboys know better than anyone exactly how many miles are on Elliott’s proverbial tires. He’s been incredibly productive during his career, but there’s no way to know how soon his production level will start to dip precipitously. There aren’t many running backs in the NFL who remain elite after their rookie contract. Dallas will think long and hard bout giving Elliott a high-priced deal that might look really ugly after one or two seasons.

The fact that Elliott is currently holding out for a new deal is only going to reinforce the Cowboys’ level of concern about his contract status. It’s clear he’s not going to take any sort of hometown discount to stay with the franchise that drafted him. He’s only going to sign a deal that makes him the highest paid running back in the game. That’s a risk the Cowboys could easily decide to avoid.

The team’s decision to freeze Eliott out will be easier to justify if they re-sign Cooper to continue on as their No. 1 wide receiver. He isn’t the superstar level of player that Elliott is, but he comfortably profiles as a productive pass catcher for years to come. Wideouts have a much longer shelf life than running backs. That could make him a better investment for the Cowboys.

Next: 5 bold predictions for the Cowboys in 2019

Cowboys fans shouldn’t panic about losing Elliott yet, but he’s not guaranteed to be a franchise cornerstone for years to come either. There’s a very real possibility that he becomes a victim of the way NFL officials view the running back position at the moment. That could force him to find a payday elsewhere once his rookie deal with Dallas is complete.

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