FRISCO - Do the Dallas Cowboys privately view Ezekiel Elliott as being on the downside of his career, as being financially burdensome, as being trade bait?
The first and most important answer is that, according to owner Jerry Jones, they do not.
Says Jerry: “I know the impact he has on opposing defenses. He’s our best football player. He’s our best. In my mind, he’s our best player.”
That doesn't keep the probing media from experimenting with NFL trade ideas; that can be part of the fun of analyzing the Cowboys, and especially when they are 4-9, well, the media has extra time on its hands and is drawn to "blow-it-up'' projects.
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Right on schedule, along comes Bleacher Report, which has constructed a fantasy trade of Elliott to the New York Jets in exchange for a second-round pick, all with the expressed purpose of creating "cap wiggle room.''
Bleacher Report points out that Elliott has gained 832 yards on a 3.9 average this year entering Sunday's NFL Week 15 visit from San Francisco here at AT&T Stadium. ... and also mentions he's got just five touchdowns along with those five lost fumbles.
All of this is true.
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B-R also writes that "promising backup Tony Pollard has managed 339 yards and two scores with a 4.5 average on 136 fewer attempts.'' While that is statistically accurate, if those numbers are meant to suggest that Dallas is ready to consider Pollard as its bell-cow running back, that is incorrect - or, at least, premature.
But let's skip over for the moment who likes who, and address the cost. The short version of how the cap would work here: If Dallas traded Elliott before June 1, it would not save money. It would cost more than $1 million on top of the requirement to "pay the cap'' $14 million.
In other words, the Cowboys would be spending more than $14 million to not have Zeke around.
That's not happening.
What about after June 1? If we're calculating properly? This one is doable. A trade after June 1 would actually save the Cowboys almost $10 million. He would, in this scenario, be a Jet, making $10 million annually, with a contract that has escapability after 2021.
There are real-life issues involved here. Do the Jets (who have cap space) value Elliott at $10 million? Would they forfeit in trade a pick as high as a second-rounder? Could Dallas easily replace what two-time NFL rushing champ Elliott, still just 25 years old, brings in talent, chemistry and leadership?
In the event the Cowboys and Jets each answer those questions in lockstep, this suggestion has on-paper viability. Maybe the most important real-life aspect of it is it establishes (again) that there is almost no such thing as a destructively bloated or "un-tradable'' contract.
We can't pretend to know what a team would give up in trade here. (The "second-rounder'' is B-R's idea, not ours.) But even in a worst-case scenario, the Cowboys (or any other team) could accept a bad pick (or even give a pick) to "dump a player.'' So make it a different pick; the numbers still make it viable from Dallas' side.
There is no indication that this is Dallas' plan regarding Ezekiel Elliott. But there is value in knowing the infrastructure of such an idea ... while we continue to monitor whether perennial Pro Bowl running back Zeke is still the Cowboys "best player.