Ezekiel Elliott got a contract extension on Wednesday, but Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper go into the 2019 season with uncertain future in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys ended their standoff with All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean their work is done.
The Cowboys gave Elliott a six-year, $90 million contract extension, making the 24-year-old the highest-paid running back in the NFL. With Elliott threatening to holdout to begin the season if the Cowboys didn’t meet his demands, the deal ensures that the two-time league rushing champion will be in the backfield against the New York Giants in Week 1 on Sunday.
He’ll be joined on the Dallas offense by quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper. It’s a situation reminiscent of the Cowboys glory years of the 1990s with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, or, in more recent history, Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant. But Prescott and Cooper aren’t guaranteed to be there much longer.
Both are eligible to become free agents following this season, and the Cowboys have been unable to negotiate extensions with either. Prescott, still just 26 and entering his fourth year as the Cowboys starter, is demanding a $40 million deal that would make him the highest-paid quarterback in league history. The Cowboys have offered him $30 million, on par with deals given to Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins. The two sides have been unable to bridge that difference yet.
Prescott, a fourth-round draft pick in 2016, was forced to start right away after Romo was sidelined with yet another back injury that would eventually end his career. He led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record that year and the division title. He’s finished with a winning record in each of his three years under center for Dallas. Before he came along, Dallas had been 1-13 in games Romo didn’t play.
In 2018, Prescott finished with a career-high 3,885 yards, 15th in the NFL. He ranked 16th with 22 touchdowns. But where his value really came was in his ability not to make mistakes. His interception percentage was the fourth-lowest in the league last season. Prescott is on the final year of his rookie contract that pays him a team-friendly $2.025 million this season, 23rd among quarterbacks.
The Cowboys face another difficult decision with Cooper. The former first-round pick by the Oakland Raiders was acquired on Oct. 22 last season and immediately made an impact in a Cowboys uniform. In seven games before his arrival, Prescott was averaging just 202 passing yards per game. In nine games with Cooper, Prescott improved to 274 yards per game. Dallas won seven of the nine games Cooper played for them. In Week 14 he led the team to a win over their NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles with a career-high 217 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime.
Cooper and Prescott found a chemistry that wasn’t there while he was in Oakland. He was averaging just 46 yards per game with the Raiders, but that jumped up to 80.6 yards after he joined the Cowboys. The 25-year-old will earn $13.9 million in 2019, third-highest among receivers behind only Cleveland’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Oakland’s Antonio Brown.
The Cowboys have room to work with if they want to resign Prescott and Cooper. They’ll go into 2020 with $86 million in cap space. They also ensured that Prescott will be protected by giving offensive lineman La’el Collins a five-year extension on Tuesday.
The Cowboys finished 10-6 in 2018 and earned their first playoff victory in four seasons before falling to the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round. With Prescott, Elliott and Cooper they are contenders to win their division and possibly represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Without either of the three, however, their chances diminish dramatically. Elliott got paid on Wednesday. Now it’s the time for the Cowboys to figure out what to do with their franchise quarterback and receiver.