3 Cowboys who must perform in 2022 ahead of contract decisions
1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB
After bursting onto the scene and proving his worth as a high draft pick, Ezekiel Elliott just hasn’t been what he was in his early years. In his first three seasons in the league, he led the NFL in carries and yards twice and led the yards per game category in all three years. Since then, injuries and other issues have seemed to keep him from that high power. People were ready to give Elliott the ax after yet another underwhelming season in 2021.
The problem? His massive contract. Before the 2019 season, the Cowboys rewarded the 3x Pro Bowler with a six-year, $90 million extensions with $50 million guaranteed. That is an insanely lengthy contract for an NFL position that experiences so much wear and tear. Since signing that contract, he just hasn’t been what he was. However, cutting Elliott this offseason was essentially fiscally impossible.
His dead cap number for 2022 is $30.08 million – by far the highest cap hit for any RB in the NFL. That means the Cowboys would have lost almost $12 million (they already started the offseason at -$21 million) to cut the running back. It just wasn’t worth it. The more frustrating part was that Elliott’s backup, Tony Pollard, was outplaying him on a budget salary.
Pollard’s cap hit for 2022 is a mere $1.1 million, yet he led Elliott in almost every statistical category including, yards per carry, yards per catch, and first down percentages. The hope is that now healthy, Elliott can get back to his ways. But if he doesn’t, the Cowboys do have a built-in out in his contract coming up in 2023, which puts major pressure on the Ohio State product.
In 2023, Elliott’s dead cap hit drops to $11.8 million. That means the Cowboys could save about $5 million if they want to cut or trade the running back if he has another mediocre season. When asked about the pressure, Elliott tried to play it cool at OTAs.
"“I mean, I control what I can control. I focus on what’s in the near future. I’m not really worried about what’s going to be going on after next season unless we’re going on tour for winning the Super Bowl.’’"
Elliott has a lot to prove in 2022. This is truly a make-or-break year for the former league leader. He has to show that he is worth all the money he’s getting.