Ezekiel Elliott was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday, making him a free agent.
Elliott, 27, was scheduled to contribute $16.7 million against the salary limit, with a non-guaranteed base salary of $10.9 million. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Elliott will be categorised as a post-June 1 cut, which means the team would save about $11 million against the 2023 limit but he will count for little more than $6 million against the 2024 maximum. The Cowboys will not be able to use their cap space until June 1.
During the 2017 NFL scouting combine, club owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he was open to retaining Elliott and Tony Pollard, who was assigned the $10.091 million franchise tag, but that it was doubtful. Elliott would have had to take a significant wage reduction, and it’s unclear if the Cowboys offered such an offer. They did not make pay-cut proposals to DeMarcus Ware or Dez Bryant in two previous high-profile exits.
“Zeke’s imprint and influence are indeliblely burned into the Cowboys franchise,” Jones said in a statement. “He has been a consummate professional and leader, setting the tone in our locker room, practise field, and huddle. Ezekiel exemplified what a great teammate should be, and everyone who has ever participated in a team sport would be fortunate to have a teammate like Zeke, and they would be much better off as a result.”
According to ESPN, the Cowboys adjusted defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence’s deal, freeing up $8.89 million in salary space, and agreed to a new contract with offensive lineman Tyree Smith. These are the fourth and fifth players whose contracts have been restructured in the last two weeks, after Dak Prescott, Zack Martin, and Michael Gallup, with a total of roughly $45 million in cap space freed up.
Smith’s last year of contract was expected to pay him $13.6 million and contribute $17.6 million against the salary limit. Smith’s basic compensation will decrease as a result of the revisions, but he will be able to make up the difference depending on how much he plays in 2023.
Elliott got a six-year agreement for $90 million in 2019, with $50 million guaranteed, but his stats have fallen over the last three seasons, with just one season exceeding 1,000 yards (with 1,002) — in 2021, when the league expanded to a 17-game schedule.
Elliott has been limited by injuries over the last two years. He didn’t miss a game despite having a partly damaged posterior cruciate ligament in 2021. He only missed two games in 2022 due to a hyperextended right knee, but he had to wear a brace for the rest of the season.
Last season, although Elliott remained the starter, the Cowboys leaned more on Pollard. Pollard rushed for 1,007 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in his first Pro Bowl appearance. The Cowboys have until July 15 to work out a multiyear deal with him, or he will be forced to play the rest of the season on the tag.
Elliott rushed for 876 yards in 2022, a career low, but he scored 12 touchdowns and remained a great short-yardage back and pass protector. Nevertheless, he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry in the last four regular-season games and had only 17 runs of 10 yards or more overall the season.
The Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth overall choice in 2016, with the intention of extending Tony Romo’s career with one of the strongest offensive lines in football. They never played a regular-season game together because Romo was injured in the preseason, but Elliott helped fellow rookie Dak Prescott lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 record. Elliott rushed for 1,631 yards, the third-most by a rookie in NFL history, and had seven 100-yard games in 2016.
He was suspended for six games in 2017 for breaking the league’s personal conduct rules, but he topped the league in running once again in 2018 with 1,434 yards. With 1,357 yards running in 2019, he was fourth in the NFL.
In his first four seasons, he had 26 100-yard running games, but he only had three in the following three, including none in 2022. Last season, he became the only back in franchise history to surpass 10,000 all-purpose yards, joining Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.
Elliott will be 28 years old in July. With the Cowboys, he had 1,881 carries for 8,262 yards and 68 running touchdowns. He caught 305 receptions for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns throughout his career. His 80 career touchdowns rank third in franchise history, after only Smith (164) and Dorsett (162). (86).