The Dallas Cowboys released running back Ezekiel Elliott on Wednesday, making him a free agent.
Ezekiel Elliott, 27, was set to count $16.7 million against the salary cap, with a non-guaranteed base salary of $10.9 million. Adam Schefter, he will be designated a post-June 1 cut, which means the club will save nearly $11 million against the 2023 cap but he will count for slightly more than $6 million against the 2024 cap. The Cowboys will not receive the salary cap credit until June 1.
At the recent NFL scouting combine, team owner and general manager Jerry Jones said that keeping Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, who was given the $10.091 million franchise tag, was a possibility, but it was always unlikely. Elliott would have had to take a significant pay cut, and it’s unclear whether the Cowboys even made such an offer. They did not make pay-cut offers to DeMarcus Ware or Dez Bryant in previous high-profile releases.
“Zeke’s impact and influence are indelibly seared into the Cowboys franchise,” Jones said in a statement. “He was a consummate professional and leader who set the tone in our locker room, practice field, and huddle. Zeke exemplified what a great teammate should be, and anyone who has ever participated in a team sport would be fortunate to have a teammate like Zeke, and they would be much better for it.”
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The Cowboys restructured defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence’s contract, freeing up $8.89 million in cap space, and agreed to a reworked contract with offensive tackle Tyree Smith. They are the fourth and fifth players whose contracts have been restructured in the last two weeks, following Dak Prescott, Zack Martin, and Michael Gallup, releasing nearly $45 million in cap space.
Smith’s final year of contract called for him to earn $13.6 million and count $17.6 million against the salary cap. Smith’s base salary will be reduced as a result of the changes, but he will be able to make up the difference depending on how much he plays in 2023.
Ezekiel Elliott signed a six-year extension worth $90 million in 2019, with $50 million guaranteed, but his numbers have dropped the past three seasons, with only one season exceeding 1,000 yards (with 1,002) — in 2021, when the league expanded to a 17-game schedule.
Injries of Ezekiel Elliott
Injuries have slowed Ezekiel Elliott over the last two years. He didn’t miss a game in 2021 despite having a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament. He only missed two games in 2022 due to a hyperextended right knee, but he wore a brace for the majority of the season.
While Ezekiel Elliott remained the starting quarterback, the Cowboys relied more on Pollard last season. Pollard rushed for 1,007 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, earning him a spot in the Pro Bowl for the first time. The Cowboys have until July 15 to reach a multiyear agreement with him, or he will be forced to play the rest of the season on the tag.
Elliott had 876 rushing yards, a career low, in 2022, but he scored 12 touchdowns and remained a top short-yardage back and pass protector. However, he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry in the final four regular-season games and had only 17 runs of 10 yards or more on the season.
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The Cowboys selected Elliott with the No. 4 pick in 2016 with the intention of extending Tony Romo’s career with one of the best offensive lines in football. They never played a regular-season game together because Romo injured his back in the preseason, but Elliott helped fellow rookie Dak Prescott lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 record. Elliott rushed for 1,631 yards, the third most by a rookie in NFL history, and had seven 100-yard games in 2016.
He served a six-game suspension in 2017 for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, but he led the league in rushing again in 2018 with 1,434 yards. With 1,357 yards rushing in 2019, he finished fourth in the NFL.
He had 26 100-yard rushing games in his first four seasons, but only three in the following three, including none in 2022. Last season, he became the only back in team history to reach 10,000 all-purpose yards, joining Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.
Elliott will be 28 in July. He finished his Cowboys career with 1,881 carries, 8,262 yards, and 68 rushing touchdowns. He had 305 receptions for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 80 career touchdowns rank third on the team behind Smith (164) and Dorsett (86).