OXNARD, Calif. — With no money guaranteed on Ezekiel Elliott’s contract after 2022, many are wondering if this is his last year with the Dallas Cowboys.
Elliott is not one of those who wonder.
“I think it’s a big season, but I don’t think you can look too far,” Elliott said. “I think if I focus on every day, if I focus on having a good camp day, if I focus on doing it week by week, I think everything will come naturally. And I don’t think so that there really is a reason to look this far. I think if I do my business every day, I’ll be in a pretty good situation by the end of the season.”
Elliott’s $12.4 million base salary is fully guaranteed as part of the $90 million renewal he signed in 2019. He plans to make $10.9 million by 2023.
Elliott’s average per game has fallen each season, from 108.7 yards per game in 2016, his rookie year, to 58.9 in 2021.
A big reason for the drop last year was a partially torn posterior ligament in his right knee, which he sustained in game four of the season. Elliott was on pace for more than 1,500 yards through the first five games of last season with five touchdowns. He reached 69 yards only once in the last 12 games, finishing with 1,002 yards and 10 touchdowns on 237 carries.
For over a month, he wore a bulky brace on his knee for extra protection as the injury limited his outburst.
“It was absolutely frustrating and certainly frustrating in certain parts of the year, but it’s football,” Elliott said. “I think today might be the only day when everyone will be 100%. From now on everyone will have a few bumps and bruises and no one will live to 100 so I’m just trying to do everything I can off the field to make sure that I keep my health and be ready for Sunday.”
Elliott never considered missing a match. He has only missed one game in his career due to injury.
“Top of the list with his redeeming qualities and there are a lot of players you see in the league who, if things don’t go right, they’re going to sit. That’s not Zeke,” said executive vice president Stephen Jones. “He wants to be there for his team, his teammates and I admire that enormously and what 21 is all about. One thing is certain: we will deliver the best performance of 21 week in week out. A great footballer.”
Elliott admitted that the knee didn’t heal quickly enough after the end of the season, but surgery was never an option.
“I was a little concerned at the start of the season, like, ‘Dang, this thing still feels a little iffy,'” Elliott said. “But I’ll say probably a month or two in the off-season, a month or two to get back to work, and I’ll say I’ll probably be back to 100 by the time OTAs hit.”
Elliott was able to work with his personal coach, Josh Hicks, before training camp.
“It’s hard to be injured and feel like you’re losing a step,” Elliott said. “So it definitely helped me move again at the speed I was used to and bring that confidence back to myself — back to my body, back to my mind that I could make those cuts.”
With Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys believe they have one of the best running back tandems in the NFL. Pollard had a career of 719 yards on 130 carries last year. He also caught 39 passes for 337 yards, leading some to call for a more equitable distribution of ball contacts.
Pollard and Elliott could see more action on the field together this year as the Cowboys look to replace some of the receiver Amari Cooper’s production in several ways. But Elliott remains a key figure.
“Zeke Elliott is one of our pillars on this team,” said McCarthy. “He’s a keystone player. The communication, his ability to do all the extra little things and those are things I can clearly look at and be a part of. The extra work he does before training, after the training, Tuesdays, I mean, he’s in the quarterback meetings in the morning. The physical part of it – he’s overcome a lot to play and I think that speaks volumes about him and you need those kinds of individuals to win championships to win.”