The Ezekiel Elliott era in Dallas came to a close this offseason when the Dallas Cowboys released the veteran, who had four years remaining on a massive six-year, $90 million extension he signed in 2019.
Elliott was arguably the worst starting running back in the league last season, finishing last in the NFL in yards per carry (3.8), tackles avoided (32), and percentage of runs that went for 10-plus yards (7.4%). The move was processed as a post-June 1 cut, and the Cowboys saw $10.9 million in cap relief as a result and will be left with $5.82 million in dead money on this year's cap. He was owed $64.76 million for the remainder of his contract, but there was no guaranteed salary remaining on his deal.
While the end for Elliott in Dallas wasn't great, he was one of the best running backs in Cowboys history. Third on the all-time list in rushing yards for the Cowboys (8,262), Elliott rushed for 1,000 yards four times in seven seasons, while also reaching double digits in rushing touchdowns four times and earning three Pro Bowl appearances.
Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards per game in three consecutive seasons (2016-2018) and the league in rushing yards twice (2016, 2018). His rushing yards per game numbers have declined each season as a result of the number of touches accumulated over the course of his career, averaging a career-low 58.4 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry in 2022.
Elliott's release cleared the path to make Tony Pollard the featured back in Dallas. Pollard ranked first in the NFL in yards per touch (5.9) last season, as he rushed for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns. This offseason, the Cowboys added Ronald Jones via free agency and Deuce Vaughn via the draft, and also have 2022 undrafted free agent Malik Davis still on the roster. That trio will likely compete for reps behind Pollard. As for Zeke, we break down several landing spots that make sense for the 27-year-old back.
Potential landing spots
Dallas Cowboys: Could the Cowboys actually bring Elliott back? They could at a restructured deal as a backup running back to Pollard, using him primarily in the red zone. Elliott has a lot more value in Dallas with a cheaper contract that isn't a significant cap hit.
Minnesota Vikings: With the with their own long-time Pro Bowl running back, there is an opening for a player to be a complement to Alexander Mattison. Minnesota drafted Ty Chandler and DeWayne McBride the past two years, though, and still has electric return man Nene Nwangwu (nominally a running back) on the roster as well. If there were a role for Zeke here, it would likely be as a short-yardage back, but we don't know how interested either he or the Vikings would be in that proposition.
Houston Texans: If Elliott still feels he can be a lead back in the league, he wouldn't have to travel far out to get that opportunity. Houston has Damion Pierce as a starter, but Elliott would get the opportunity for touches. The Texans were 31st in the league in rush yards per game, rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry -- so any player would be an upgrade for that offense. Elliott could certainly get his carries in Houston, paving the way for a young quarterback. Houston didn't add a back in the draft, either.
Cincinnati Bengals: Losing Samaje Perine as the power back in that offense was a big blow for the Bengals. Elliott could fill that void as the power back complement to Joe Mixon, getting opportunities to rack up the tough yards on third-and-short situations and inside the 20. Wouldn't cost much for Cincinnati either.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Elliott's former running backs coach, Skip Peete, is now the running backs coach in Tampa, which has added only Chase Edmonds to the Rachaad White-led backfield this offseason. White was also ineffective as a runner last season, but he at least has the benefit of youth and upside. If Elliott were to land here, it would likely be as a goal-line and pass-protection type of back.
Los Angeles Chargers: Former Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is now in L.A., where the Chargers are always looking for additional backs to give Austin Ekeler a breather. Elliott's pass blocking and short yardage abilities could make sense in a role here, but he'd have to be willing to take a firm back seat to a player who is still in something resembling his prime years.