Since running back Ezekiel Elliott isn’t in Dallas, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can’t try to persuade Elliott to take whatever offer the team is willing to make. So Jones needs to use a different strategy.
His fallback? Make Elliott look bad for holding out.
Jones already has mentioned the “honor your contract” concept in reference to Elliott. During a Friday appearance on 105.3 the Fan in Dallas on Friday, Jones cranked that concept up a notch.
“If we do a new contract, what’s to assure us that this time next year or three months later, we won’t be talking about another contract?” Jones said, via Jon Machota of TheAthletic.com. “If we’re not gonna honor contracts?”
That’s a bit disingenous, for several reasons. First and foremost, teams fail to honor contracts all the time. This weekend, plenty of players will have their contracts torn up by teams that constantly choose not to honor contracts when it’s in their interests to do so.
Second, if the Cowboys sign Zeke to a new contract and he shows up now, he’s not going to launch a new holdout during the season. So the Cowboys definitely won’t be back in this position in three months. And if Elliott gets the contract he deserves, he’s not going to hold out again in 2020. Or in 2021. Or, most likely, in 2022.
Third, the “honor your contract” mantra is a red herring. Elliott has two contracts — his deal with the team and his union’s deal with the league. Under the latter, he has the absolute power to withhold services in order to enhance the former, if he’s willing to incur the fines.
If Jones doesn’t like that, he currently has a chance to change it. Jones has taken a central role in the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. He can, on behalf of the league, try to make it so difficult and/or expensive for players under contract to hold out that they can’t or they won’t.
In 2011, the league bumped up the daily training-camp holdout fines dramatically. In 2019, nothing stops the league from making it far more financially onerous to stay away.
The broader problem is that fans and media will latch onto the “honor your contract” mantra and presume that Elliott is doing something wrong by exercising his right to stay away. He’s not. He’s making a stand, and he has every right to do it.
The fact that it seems to be getting under Jones’ skin means that, despite the bluster, it’s working.