• Elliott got what he wanted—a contract extension that makes him the highest-paid running back in the NFL and a Cowboy for essentially the remainder of his career.
By Conor Orr
September 04, 2019

If the Cowboys were always going to blink first in the Ezekiel Elliott stare-down, a few weeks of tough rhetoric and positing only seemed to delay the inevitable eight-year, $103 million extension that was announced on Wednesday morning (for those scoring at home, the new money in the deal is $90 million over six years). Speeches about the remaining “pie” for Cowboys players who were still holding out for more only goes to show that this is not a traditional pie, but one that has wider edges on some sides, like an irregular heptagon.

In exchange for essentially handing the rest of his career over to the Cowboys, Elliott gets the right to say that, in this moment, he’s the highest-paid running back in football in terms of both average per-year salary and guarantees, eclipsing the deal signed by Rams running back Todd Gurley a year ago. That, until a theoretically healthy Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey inevitably take their stab at the negotiating table.

Dallas is assembling the kind of long-term contractual armada the Eagles rolled out before their stunning run to the Super Bowl, extending all their best players through their athletic prime in order to solidify a foundation throughout the remainder of that window. So what does this all mean?

If you’re Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, one of the three high-profile contracts coming due that hasn’t been extended yet, this is an indication of the potential Jerry Jones and the rest of the executive team see in this roster. And it’s not just “squeeze into the playoffs and win a game or two” potential. This is likely an ultimatum, showing him the road ahead and indicating that he can either walk along, or allow someone else to take the trip.  

If you’re Jerry Jones, this may be the end of your pragmatist streak, which saw you avoid tempting landmines throughout the last six drafts in an effort to repair the bones of your roster. By moving on the Elliott deal, the Joneses are planting their flag on the culmination of a roster building “process” that began with the selection of Travis Frederick at the back end of the first round in 2013—an idea, peppered with a few major swings that actually hit and became Dallas’ most consistently competitive and “star”-studded roster since their run through the 1990s.

When you have that much money invested in a group of players that you’re constantly being told are generational and entering their athletic prime (that may be different for Elliott, given that peak running back performance tends to dip after age 25), it heightens expectations beyond what may even be possible given the current set of competitors in the division.

If you’re Elliott, you can at least operate with the knowledge that you did all you could not to allow the NFL machine to spit you out. This wasn’t easy given Jones’s ability to whip up a fan base that already feels like players should be proud to wear the star and it doesn’t matter what they get paid.

The “end” for generational running backs is almost always the same; chipping away in another uniform, carving out a meager role behind another young running back who will be strung along through the length of their own contract before being told that there isn’t enough juice left in their legs. Elliott will at least have a surplus in the bank account to show for it.

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