OXNARD, Calif. -- Running back Ezekiel Elliott's holdout is stretching into its second week with no real end in sight.
Talks between the Dallas Cowboys and Elliott's representatives continue, but they are not close to a deal, according to sources. The good news is they're talking. The bad news is Elliott has missed six padded practices.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones goes back and forth in what he says, believing a deal will get done in one breath while in the next saying it would not concern him if the impasse took months to reconcile.
"As far as doing something that would disrupt and shake the base of our plans for how to keep the talent we've got here, I'm not about to shake that loose," Jones said after Thursday's practice. Then he says of the extension: "When have I ever not done one?"
All of this raises some questions. So what are some of the answers?
Q. What is Elliott's contract situation and how much of a raise is he looking for? Would he take a bump, ala the Julio Jones deal in 2018, with promises of a bigger deal in 2020?
A. It's hard to say what Elliott wants for sure because we have not heard from his representatives, but it's clear "Todd Gurley money," (four years, $60 million with $45 million guaranteed) is not getting it done at the moment. As proof, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said at the NFL scouting combine in February that Gurley's deal is the starting point for a contract with Elliott. Is the Cowboys' star rusher looking to blow the top off the running back market? If that's the case, it could be the reason there's an impasse.
As far as the Julio Jones promise, that is not the Cowboys' style, and the "promise" of a bigger deal in 2020 really would not mean much to Elliott's camp. The Cowboys want to give Elliott a new deal. They just want to be smart about it because everybody knows the running back metrics out there. The shelf life isn't long, with NFL running backs peaking between the ages of 24 and 26. Elliott has not missed a game because of injury. He just turned 24, but there has been a heavy workload (868 carries for 4,048 rushing yards in three seasons).
Ideally, the Cowboys are in a position to give Elliott a lot of money for the next three to four years, and then they are able to get out of the deal -- should there be a decline -- without huge salary-cap ramifications. Salary-cap room is not an issue. The Cowboys have nearly $24 million in room, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A long-term deal for wide receiver Amari Cooper could give Dallas even more space because he is currently counting $13.9 million against the cap. And if the Cowboys wanted to, they could also restructure the contract of Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin and gain more space.
Also, the Cowboys can write language into the contract that protects themselves if Elliott gets suspended again by the league under the personal conduct policy, but players only have to pay back a prorated portion of the signing bonus if they are suspended under the drug and performance-enhancing drug policies.
What's the next deadline for Elliott and how will it affect his contract status?
Let's clear up what Aug. 6 means, which is the deadline for players to report to have this season count toward free agency. It really doesn't affect Elliott because he is technically under contract through 2020 since the Cowboys picked up his fifth-year option. The Tuesday deadline mattered much more to a player such as New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas because he would not have become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season.
The first week of the regular season seems to be the next deadline. Elliott was not going to get a carry in the preseason anyway. At the start of training camp, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said to get back to him in a month before he gets worried. Well, that would be right around the time the Cowboys start their week of practice for their season opener on Sept. 8 against the New York Giants.
Williams: Zeke is the only player Cowboys need to pay
DeAngelo Williams and Darius Butler disagree on who the Cowboys need to pay first between Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Can Elliott pull an Emmitt Smith and actually miss a regular-season game, the same way the Hall of Famer did in 1993? It seems a little far-fetched at the moment.
Is Elliott's absence affecting the Cowboys' ability to get deals done with Cooper and QB Dak Prescott?
The easy answer is no. The Cowboys have plenty of roster room during camp. They don't have a cash issue, either. While these deals are intertwined, the negotiations are separate. The Cowboys can multitask on this stuff. If Elliott were in camp, the talks with Cooper and Prescott would be in the same place. With all of that being said, as easy as these talks can be, there is some complexity to them. It's not just total money, average per year and signing bonus issues. There are certain things to consider with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2020 season that make it a little more difficult, like base salaries only being able to increase by 30% each season. It doesn't make a deal impossible, but it could affect the structure and cash flow of contracts.
Could this become a Le'Veon Bell situation with Elliott holding out for 16 games? If so, would the Cowboys consider trading for a starting running back?
If we are consulting the Magic 8-Ball, the answer in the window would show: extremely unlikely. Perhaps the Steelers felt the same way with Bell, but he was not under contract last season since he did not sign the franchise tag. Elliott could sit out the season, but his contract would toll. He would be in line to make the same $3.853 million in 2020 and the fifth-year option worth $9.09 million would move to 2021. Now, one option Elliott has is to return for the final three games of the season, which would be enough to allow the contract to stay in place and for him to make $9.09 million in 2020.
Whom does Prescott need more: Cooper or Elliott?
We have seen Prescott succeed with Elliott. We saw him struggle for seven games last season before the Cowboys traded for Cooper. Some of this answer goes to the crux of the negotiations with Elliott and maybe a little bit with Prescott. As Stephen Jones said, Elliott is the straw that stirs the drink. He is the engine of the Cowboys' offense. When he is on the field, the Cowboys are defended differently. It can open up things for others. But Prescott still struggled to throw for 200 yards in a game from the final two contests in 2017 to the first seven games last season. He passed for more than 208 yards in a game only twice in those nine games. Cooper's arrival proved the Cowboys' receiver-by-committee approach to start 2018 was majorly flawed. The Cowboys control the tempo with the running game but points come in the passing game. Cooper is the answer.