FRISCO - Last NFL weekend brought an Ezekiel Elliott "perfect storm'' into the headlines - in an unnecessarily negative way.
First came a piece Bleacher Report, which constructed a fantasy trade of Elliott to the New York Jets in exchange for a second-round pick - and then our deep-dive into the realities of the concept. See below ...
Then came Elliott being on the inactive list for what would become a Sunday NFL Week 15 home win over the 49ers.
Then came Tony Pollard's fine performance in Zeke's place, the first-ever evidence that Pollard might be capable of more full-time responsibilities.
Then came ... the storm.
*A wave of accusations about our story being "click-bait'' when it was in fact an honest and factual exercise in how Dallas, should it wish, can part with Elliott and his contract - one way being a trade with a team like the New York Jets. (We will concede that the adjoining art featuring Zeke in a Jets uniform is ... eye-catching.)
*A thunderstorm of aggregated "news'' pieces, stemming from our story, that errantly suggested that even discussing this concept means Zeke is "trouble.''
*A hurricane of misinterpretations of an innocuous Zeke quote - parsed away from his full answer about his injury and Pollard's performance.
To start, we've made it clear that the Cowboys, according to owner Jerry Jones, do not view Zeke as an albatross.
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.”
Having said that, now that Pollard is on the map ...
We've got Jones making flattering references to Elliott and Pollard as a valuable "tandem.''
Additionally and importantly (because this is where the blogosphere is getting it wrong), Elliott's own review of last Sunday is not incendiary - it's supportive, of both Pollard's work and of his own plan to get back on the field. The full pertinent Zeke quotes ...
About himself: “Oh no,'' said Elliott on Sunday night when asked whether his nasty calf contusion would cause him to continue sitting. "I’m not shutting it down.''
This got misinterpreted by some as some sort of "defiance'' against the organization. All it is is a declaration of a proud, hard-working player's desire to get healthy.
About Pollard: “He’s a guy you know is super-explosive,'' Zeke said, clearly happy for his "little brother.'' "You know he can break one at any moment. Before the last play, I told him, 'Go put it on ice,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”
As you are hopefully seeing, Zeke's quotes and more, is that what we (and the Cowboys) are left with here isn't a pot of trouble; it's a handful of options. Those options go something like this:
1) Keep Zeke. Ride it out. His contract is about to make him, in essence, a $10 million running back. If he's truly among Dallas' "best players,'' this is not "trouble.''
2) Release Zeke at the appropriate time. That's too costly to do this offseason. But the way his contract is structured? Dallas gains $7 million of room after 2021. (By the way, the Cowboys could do this and still re-sign him, should both parties choose.)
3) Trade Zeke this offseason, after June 1. This move is the source of the "click-bait'' controversy. But it's not "bait'' - it's simply the truth about an option that would actually save the Cowboys almost $10 million.
Again ... read more.
Why the Jets? There are other teams that could take on Zeke. Bleacher Report picked the Jets, so that's the circumstance we analyzed. And in our analysis we carefully wrote:
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 (as B-R suggests)? Could Dallas easily replace what two-time NFL rushing champ Elliott, still just 25 years old, brings in talent, chemistry and leadership?
Part of what is established here (again) that there is almost no such thing as a destructively bloated or "un-tradable'' contract. At the same time, we wrote:
There is no indication that (a trade) 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.''
Examining Ezekiel Elliott's value isn't "stirring the pot''; the Cowboys front office would be negligent in its duties if it failed such self-study. But none of this means Zeke is "trouble'' or "in trouble'' or "causing trouble.''
It's not about "trouble.'' It's about "options.''