Everyone loves Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys fans obviously love him. Who wouldn’t love the guy who’s led the NFL in rushing two of the last three seasons? By the way, that’s also every time he’s played a full NFL season AND it corresponds with a pair of NFC East titles for Dallas.
High school players love him, too. At last week’s Trib high school football photo day, we had the kids fill out questionnaires that included the query, “Favorite current or past NFL player?” Guess who got the most votes? The Cowboys’ No. 21.
And Zeke’s coaches and teammates love him. Or at least they keep talking like they do. Asked about his star running back’s current holdout this week, Dallas coach Jason Garrett gave Elliott a vote of confidence, saying “Zeke loves football. He loves it. He is going to get himself ready to go. He knows the responsibility he has to his team and his teammates. He takes that seriously.”
Ok, cool. But the thing is, it sure seems like that last part is the opposite.
It seems like Zeke doesn’t know the responsibility he has to his teammates, or he doesn’t care. And it sure doesn’t seem like he’s taking that seriously.
Because while his teammates are in training camp in Oxnard, Calif., Zeke is hanging out at his agent’s place in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Elliott’s agent is Rocky Arceneaux, who founded Alliance Management Group. Arceneaux must be a good agent because, from what I’ve seen, an agent’s job is to ignore public perception and family values and personal principles and anything else that gets in the way of going for the money.
Team Zeke is dedicated to the bottom line: getting Zeke paid. They clearly don’t care what anyone thinks.
How else can they explain the horrible timing of this holdout?
Here’s how it stacks up. Elliott has two years remaining on his rookie contract and is set to make $12.9 million through the remainder of the deal. It’s not abnormal for a star player to want to renegotiate at this stage, but the Cowboys are faced with re-signing quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper, both of whom have only one year left on their contracts. Zeke basically wants to jump the line, I guess fearing that the Cowboys are going to run out of money before it’s his turn.
You know what, though? Elliott is probably more valuable to the Cowboys than anyone else on the roster. If yards and touchdowns and value to the offense when he’s at his best were the only factors, then, yeah, Dallas should go ahead and pay Zeke first.
But that’s not the only thing the Cowboys are considering, or this wouldn’t be happening.
Could it be that Dallas remembers two years ago when Zeke spent the first half of the season appealing his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, then still had to serve the full suspension when all of the legal wrangling was over?
Is it possible that the Dallas brass experienced some nervous moments earlier this summer when Elliott’s behavior at an electronic dance music festival in Las Vegas caused him to have to go back to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s office for a chat? After all the time, money and ink spent on Elliott’s case two years ago, this time the NFL mysteriously just let the Cowboys running back go about his business.
Even so, the book on Zeke at this point in his career is that he’s an amazing football player and an off-the-field problem waiting to happen.
Someone, maybe a Cowboys team captain, should send a note to Arceneaux’s place in Cabo reminding Team Zeke that trust is earned and so is the privilege of skipping the contract negotiation line.
For his part, Zeke needs to consider two possible paths and weigh the potential consequences.
There’s the road Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence took a year ago when he chose not to hold out and played through the final year of his contract. Lawrence posted 10.5 sacks last season, then in this offseason reached a deal with the Cowboys worth $105 million over the next five years.
Or there’s the Le’Veon Bell route. The Steelers running back stayed away from training camp while looking for a new deal a year ago. That turned into a holdout that wiped out his 2018 season. Along the way, he lost the goodwill of many of his Pittsburgh teammates and now he plays for the Jets.
It’s an easy call. If Zeke follows the Lawrence path, Cowboys fans are going to keep loving him and the Dallas front office is going to find a way to pay him.
But if he keeps chillin’ in Cabo, he might never make it back to Dallas.