Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott could face reduced role in 2020
Last year, the offseason for the Dallas Cowboys faced a similar challenge to that of this current situation. A high-profile contributor to the offense was unhappy about his contract situation, which dominated the news cycle throughout August.
After leading the league in rushing in two of his first three seasons, running back Ezekiel Elliott decided he should be in line for a raise. His stance did not change throughout all of the organized training activities as well as the official training camp.
With just days before the season was set to start, owner Jerry Jones “caved” and inked the star running back to the highest-paid contract for that position in the history of the league (until this year, of course). After playing for just over $2.5 million in 2018, Elliott will make $6.8 million in guaranteed money this season.
Logically, one might presume that opening up the armored car full of money for Elliott will translate into sending his usage rate through the roof. The Dallas Cowboys even tipped their hand (sort of) to this thought process by putting an “out” year on his deal after the 2022 season where they can get away from almost $60 million of this deal if they so choose.
Enough about two or three years down the line, however. You are worried about the present. How much will the Dallas Cowboys “feed Zeke” in 2020? The answers might shock you.
The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of hungry mouths to feed in Big D
The Dallas Cowboys have a very nice “problem.” This offense is loaded with talented players that can all produce if given the opportunity to do so.
Besides, the two-time league leader in rushing, the Cowboys have a do-it-all type backup in Tony Pollard who, when given the chance, showed his explosiveness. In just four games with ten or more carries (52 in total), Pollard totaled 318 yards and two touchdowns rushing. One would think he might get more opportunities in 2020.
There is also the Three Amigos outside. Receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and rookie CeeDee Lamb are all dynamic talents on the perimeter. Cooper, himself freshly signed to a new five-year, $100 million deal has four seasons of over 1,000 yards receiving and six touchdowns in just five years. Gallup, in just his second season, put up 1,100+ yards and six touchdowns in 2019. Meanwhile, Lamb finished his final two years at Oklahoma with 2,485 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.
This all goes without even addressing tight end Blake Jarwin and his potential to grow. As I wrote in regard to Lamb on Sunday, however, all of these guys cannot get the ball all the time. Based on that, it is quite possible that Elliott will not get 300+ carries as he has in the three years he played full seasons in the past.
The history of the Dallas Cowboys new head coach
When you think of Mike McCarthy, you think of an elite passing attack. Cutting his teeth as a quarterbacks coach, turned offensive coordinator, McCarthy has had the privilege of coaching two of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game.
As one might expect, when you have guys like that as your best player, the running back is most likely going to be the secondary option. As such, in McCarthy’s almost thirteen full seasons as the head coach, the Packers only had one running back eclipse 300 carries in a season.
Only three times did anyone have more than 275 rushes. In fact, during the majority of his reign in Green Bay, the leading rusher amassed less than 200 carries in eight of those 13 seasons.
Now, to be fair, Green Bay never had someone like Elliott to tote the rock. Also, as much as I love Dak Prescott, he’s definitely not on that Aaron Rodgers/Brett Favre historical quarterbacking level… yet. It is also fair, once again, to question whether or not the Dallas Cowboys give Ezekiel Elliott 300 or more carries this year.
With a wealth of talent and new coaching staff, the Dallas Cowboys offense could be much more diverse in 2020. While it’s unfathomable that Ezekiel Elliott will not be a huge part of their attack, it is possible that his role is slightly reduced.
This is not necessarily a bad thing as he could be used as a fourth-quarter hammer or even be a more fresh version of himself if the Cowboys advance to the postseason. Regardless of how it all shakes out, this is certainly one of the more intriguing questions to ponder this offseason.