Clever Cowboys free agency move slams door shut on Ezekiel Elliott reunion

Dec 7, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  New England Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott (15)
Dec 7, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys' approach to free agency has been confusing to say the least. Many fans presumed the Cowboys would come away with at least one new running back. While the jury is still out on that, reuniting with Ezekiel Elliott wouldn't exactly qualify as bringing in a new face.

Last week, Cowboys team writer Patrik Walker reported that Dallas was kicking the tires on re-signing Elliott. Per Walker, dialogue has "remained opened" between Zeke and the Cowboys, and their relationship remains strong even though the two-time rushing champ was released last offseason.

We suppose anything is possible, but the odds of Elliott returning to Dallas dropped significantly after the team's latest free agency move.

Late Monday, the Cowboys re-signed running back Rico Dowdle. It's a one-year deal worth $1.255 million, including a $200K signing bonus. With Tony Pollard now in Tennessee, Dowdle is Dallas' leading returning rusher after he totaled 361 yards in 2023 in his first season in a prominent role.

Cowboys re-signing running back Rico Dowdle might rule out an Ezekiel Elliott reunion

For starters, this is a smart move by the Cowboys, as Dowdle impressed in a time-sharing role with Pollard last season. In fact, Dowdle posted more rushing yards after contact per attempt (2.91) than Saquon Barkley, Kenneth Walker, Travis Etienne, Josh Jacobs and D'Andre Swift, per Pro Football Focus.

That's impressive company for Dowdle, especially when you consider he only logged seven career carries before last season.

Meanwhile, Elliott averaged just 2.54 yards after contact per carry. That was a bottom-10 number among running backs. He also finished bottom-five in explosive runs (rushes of 10 or more yards) and bottom-15 in missed tackles forced, all the while ranking sixth-worst with 3.5 yards per carry.

We wouldn't rule out the Cowboys signing a veteran back to add experience to their backfield, but Elliott and Dowdle have similar playing styles. Both are physical runners who welcome contact between the tackles. Neither player has breakaway speed and both are solid in pass protection.

Even if Dallas targets a speedster in the draft, they'd be better of pursuing J.K. Dobbins or Clyde Edwards-Helaire in free agency than Zeke. Both Dobbins and Edwards-Helaire are elusive runners that offer versatility as pass-catchers.

The Cowboys should try to add as many profiles to their backfield as they can. While most of the top running backs have signed, there are options out there that would fit that bills. Elliott returning home is a fun thought, but now that Dowdle is back it would be redundant and only create headaches for Mike McCarthy.

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