The Dallas Cowboys’ decision to release Ezekiel Elliott couldn’t have been easy. Heck, that’s exactly why so many fans and talking heads didn’t shut the door on Elliott returning for another season: folks wondered whether Jerry Jones would do right by the organization or the player.
The Cowboys haven’t reaped the benefits of cutting Elliott just yet, but the $10.9 million they save against the salary cap once June 1 hits will go a long way towards signing the 2023 draft class, paying the future dead money from the move, and taking part in the post-draft free agent frenzy.
Beyond the money variable, it was time for Elliott to go. He was making too much money to be a one-dimensional back.
Elliott’s release should take nothing away from what he accomplished early in his career. Everyone recognizes how great he was, but statistics show he’s been declining ever since he signed his six-year, $90 million contract.
Don’t tell that to franchise legend Emmitt Smith, however.
After the move was made official, Smith took to the Cowboys’ comment section on Instagram to go scorched earth on his former team.
Cowboys great Emmitt Smith voices displeasure over Ezekiel Elliott’s release
"“Wow, this is amazing to me — no disrespect to Malik Davis. Our starting running back is gone, and his backup [Tony Pollard] has a broken leg? The NFL stands for not for long. Everyone else, go get your money because they have no love for you,” Smith said.“. . . This is why, the NFL stands for not the law. Everybody else go get your money because they have no love for you.”"
Did Smith really have to die on this hill?
Again, releasing Elliott was the right organizational move, and it likely would’ve happened sooner if his contract allowed it. Speaking of the contract, Zeke definitely got his money. It guaranteed him $50 million and made him the NFL’s highest-paid running back.
Further, Elliott’s $70.6 million in career earnings is by far the most for any running back since he was drafted in 2016. Christian McCaffrey is next at $45.7 million, followed closely by Titans superstar Derrick Henry.
There’s a literal $24.9 million difference between Elliott’s career earnings and the next-highest RB, so the point Smith made, or tried to make, about Zeke getting his money sort of falls on deaf ears.
In the grand scheme, yes, NFL players should absolutely chase their money. The league is a business first and foremost, but the Cowboys organization — from the top down — had unwavering love and appreciation for Elliott.
Go look at the outpouring of tweets from fans and the media after news of his release broke. There was nothing but positivity. Look up the emotional reactions from Dak Prescott and three-time champion Troy Aikman.
While we understand the point Smith is trying to make, Elliott’s decline in production and efficiency made his release a no-brainer.
While Elliott is still viable between the tackles and near the goal line, he’s virtually useless anywhere else, as his 114 carries outside the tackles last season generated minus-85 rushing yards over expectation.
It brings us no joy to disagree with a legend like Emmitt Smith, but there’s just no way we can co-sign a take that accuses the Cowboys of having zero love for Elliott, that Zeke didn’t get paid, or that Pollard’s injury should have had a say in the decision.