The #PFTPM podcast gives me a way to react to news that emerges during the day (after PFT Live concludes), to answer questions from you, and/or to babble on and on about whatever I’d like to babble on and on about. Sometimes, in the process of babbling on and on about something, I get an idea.
While discussing the status of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott‘s holdout and the latest offer that reportedly was made to Elliott by the them, it occurred to me that, at their core, these contractual conundrums that the Cowboys currently are confronting reflect deep-seated envy of a franchise that has appeared in 10 Super Bowls since the last time the Cowboys played in the NFL’s championship game. Indeed, the Cowboys haven’t even been back to the NFC title game during a 23-year run that has included 10 AFC championship and six Super Bowl trophies for the New England Patriots, eclipsing along the way the five that the Cowboys won from 1971 through 1995.
The Patriots have mastered the ability to persuade players to take less than full market value, which has become a key ingredient in both holding together a nucleus of great talent and having enough cap space left to maintain a solid middle class of backups who can step in when injuries inevitably happen. The Cowboys, who currently have the most talent they’ve had since the salary cap began to chip away at the Jimmy Johnson-built roster that won three titles in four years from 1992 through 1995, are trying to impose that mindset on their players, but they can’t. And it seems to be driving them a little batty.
Yes, it’s good to have a bunch of great players. And now the Cowboys will either do what the Vikings have done, paying all of them at or close to market value and hoping for the best when it comes to the second- and third-string players, or persuade the likes of Elliott and Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper to act like Patriots.
Of course, the envy between the franchises quite possibly runs both ways. No matter how many championships the Patriots win, the Cowboys remain America’s Team, drawing eyeballs like no one else, even in down years. Still, it’s better to have the championships, and the Cowboys want more of them. They’ll be more likely to get more if they can get their best players to do what most of the best Patriots players always do: Take less.
The only problem for the Cowboys is that Zeke, Dak, and Amari aren’t inclined to do that. Earlier this year, Prescott made it clear that a team-friendly deal is an unfriendly proposition. “Nobody’s wife makes as much money as [Tom Brady’s] wife does,” Prescott told said at the time. “When Tom Brady isn’t the breadwinner in the home, then that’s a great problem to have.”
This means that the Cowboys eventually have to choose between finding a way to make it work (even if they end up with a subpar collection of backups) or making tough decisions about trading certain players or letting them become free agents, relying on the organization’s ability to draft and develop cheaper replacements.
It would be a lot easier if the best players would simply take less, like the best Patriots do. The sooner the Cowboys realize that’s just not happening, the sooner they’ll get these contractual disputes resolved, one way or the other.