Should the Cowboys resign Ezekiel Elliott?
Since being drafted by the Cowboys with the fourth overall pick in 2016, "Zeke" has been the league's leading rusher and a top end pass protector who turned in a career high 77 receptions last season. With that being said, is resigning the 23 year old superstar a no brainer? Is it a smarter move to let one of the franchise's greatest runners ever walk in free agency? Or is there a third option? Let's take a deeper look.
Zeke vs History
Touches in first three seasons
Year of Decline
Age at Decline
Touches at Decline
There are dozens of RB's that I could have chosen from but I decided to use the best running backs of the last generation. Notice that Elliott has more touches through his first three seasons than all but Tomlinson, some of them by a very wide margin, and that's even with the six games missed in 2017 due to suspension. The other thing to note is that Zeke plays a much more physical style than Tomlinson, much more like that of Larry Johnson, Alexander and Peterson.
On average the above players began to decline about 1067 carries, and 4.67 seasons after their third season at an average age of 29.5. Given his age (23) and workload that would mean that Zeke would begin to decline in the next three to six seasons. When considering his physical style, its more likely to be around four years.
The Golden years
Yards per game during decline
Seasons until retirement
5 (still active)
All of the above backs experience a steep decline almost overnight. The good news for Elliot is that Peterson is a similar style of runner and has managed to hang around for the last five seasons, even producing a 1,000 yard season more than three years after his prime ended.
Elliott has two years remaining on his current contract, one year with a fifth year option (which is nearly guaranteed to be picked up). That would mean that he will likely be due for a contract at age 25 with about 1,700 career touches. That leaves the Cowboys with two options.
Option one: The Le'veon Bell route. This is the the route that most team's would likely take with running back talent in today's NFL. This would mean that the team would pick up Zeke's fifth year option, then have Elliott play under the franchise tag in 2021, attempt to again in 2022, invest in the position in future drafts, and allow a 27 year old Zeke to walk in free agency. We saw how this played out for Pittsburgh this past season, and the drama that comes with it leads me to prefer option two.
Option two: The Todd Gurley route. Unlike the Steelers, the Rams decided not to drag out proceedings with it's best player. The good news is that Gurley responded by being an MVP candidate most of the season. The bad news is that Gurley was limited throughout the post season and it was later discovered that the Rams' star player had arthritis in his knee, putting his long term future in doubt. For Zeke this would mean resigning Elliott next off-season on a Todd Gurley like deal with guaranteed money in the first few years.
Option one would make sense in today's NFL that prioritizes contract values over nearly all else. Zeke is a different player though and may be the closest we have seen to Adrian Peterson with the ability to catch the ball, and thus should be one of the few players to which option two is the way to go in my opinion and could be productive throughout the life of the deal, like Peterson.
Cowboys fans, what do you think the team should do about Zeke's contract?