It’s impossible to imagine the Cowboys without running back Ezekiel Elliott, and it’s hard to imagine Elliott without the Cowboys.
But that’s where we are, now that the Cowboys have officially released Elliott.
He had a $10.9 million base salary for 2023 and a cap number of $16.72 million. With running back Tony Pollard operating under the franchise tender of $10.1 million, something had to give.
Elliott is now a free agent. Some had suggested that, at the Scouting Combine, his options would be determined. It’s unclear whether he has a clear alternative to whatever the Cowboys were willing to pay on a reduced compensation package.
It’s possible that Elliott could return to the Cowboys. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the chances of that currently happening are “slim.”
So where will he go? Winning is a major priority for him, we’re told, which would likely narrow the field to the clearest of contenders. Scheme, system, and emphasis on run game also will be important to him.
For now, Elliott is narrowing down his potential destinations.
This would have happened a year ago, but for a contract structure that converted injury guarantees to full guarantees one year into the future. When signed his contract in 2019, all compensation for 2019 and 2020 was fully guaranteed. In early 2020, the 2021 salary became guaranteed. In early 2021, the 2022 salary of $12.4 million become fully guaranteed.
That’s the best way to negotiate guarantees that vest in the future. The Cowboys weren’t going to cut him after one year, which kicked in Year Three. They weren’t going to cut him after two years, which kicked in Year Four.
Good agents know how to structure deals that way to increase the practical guarantee. It’s how they earn their fee when negotiating complicated, multi-year deals.