Cowboys at Niners preview: What to watch? What Ezekiel Elliott is watching

Mike Fisher

SAN JOSE - One can make a case for the importance of the competitions at backup QB, at depth spots at corner and receiver and certainly at starting defensive end, given the latest Dallas Cowboys news. But Cowboys at Niners offers a bigger-picture issue regarding ... Ezekiel Elliott.

I explained this on Friday on 105.3 The Fan and I will reiterate here: This preseason opener is "meaningless'' in so many conventional ways. That's not to say Cooper Rush vs. Mike White laboring to win the No. 2 QB job behind Dak Prescott isn't important. And we know livelihoods are at stake when it comes to the battles at cornerback and receiver behind the first-teamers. Oh, and with Robert Quinn joining the list of unavailable defensive ends? Saturday here in San Jose is a big chance for Taco Charlton and all the guys behind him on the depth chart.

But you really want to watch what Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys really want to watch: rookie Tony Pollard as a potential standout on the field ... and as a negotiating fulcrum in the front office.

Zeke's arrival in Cali is not "imminent,'' as has been reported. He is sitting on a Dallas' contract extension proposal ("top-five running back money,'' likely a contract more like La'Veon Bell's $13 mil per year than Todd Gurley's $14 mil per year) that has been on the table for at least 12 days ... with no meaningful response from his side, led by agent Rocky Arceneaux.

So along with owner Jerry Jones' trademark optimism -- “It’ll happen, it’ll happen. There is literally no concern on my part at all for any time frame that it’ll happen. The results are too good for them and too good for the Cowboys,'' says Jerry of inevitable big-deal signings like Zeke's -- what we have as a positive in the backfield is the electric fourth-round rookie Pollard. Everyone from the owner to the head coach loves talking about Pollard's "juice,'' and while he isn't listed as the No. 1 back on this week's depth chart (the slightly more veteran Darius Jackson has that honor), he's definitely the not-Zeke No. 1 in the Cowboys' hearts.

How could a preseason game against the Niners on Saturday create any negotiation pressure involving Zeke? What if Pollard looks like Alvin Kamara this month? Or what if he looks like, oh, I dunno ... Lance Dunbar or somebody?

"Not close'' can morph into "done deal'' in a matter of hours, and it can (and likely will) do so in such a way that the "frauds and posers'' media thermometer cannot keep pace with. But for now?

Two-time NFL rushing champ Elliott is in Cabo, poised to watch this exhibition game and maybe more of them, surely hoping the results provide him leverage. Unproven rookie Pollard is here in San Jose, just trying to win playing time, but likely aware that the Joneses surely hopes he provides them leverage.

So this is not a "meaningless game'' to Rush and White, to Taco and Dorance ... or, in their respective ways, to Zeke, to Pollard and to the Joneses.