Ever since they used a top-five pick on him in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys have made no bones about their desire to feed Ezekiel Elliott and allow their offense to revolve around their star running back. Despite that dedication to cranking up Zeke's workload and pounding the rock on the ground, the Cowboys have been less enthusiastic about signing Elliott to a long-term contract this offseason.
It may be coming to a head for the two sides this offseason, as Elliott is planning to hold out from training camp absent a new deal and there is a belief out there that things could "go sideways" if there isn't a deal to be done.
Elliott will reportedly be forcing the issue even more, as according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the running back is making plans to take what amounts to a vacation, despite Cowboys training camp beginning in five days.
"Running back Ezekiel Elliott may or may not be there," Florio wrote Sunday. "Per a league source, Elliott currently is believed to be making plans for a trip out of the country."
Elliott has made enough money where he can schedule a quick trip out of the country before the season starts. He certainly would not be the first person to plan a vacation right before work picks up at the office.
But it's also possible -- and perhaps quite likely -- that Elliott's camp allowing this information to become public is a not-so-subtle way of letting the Cowboys know that Elliott won't be attending camp if he isn't rewarded with a new deal.
The two-time NFL rushing leader is hardly alone in his belief. Melvin Gordon of the Chargers, also a first-round pick but a year earlier, wants to get paid before he shows up for Los Angeles' would-be Super Bowl season.
There's a fairly simple solution out there to get Gordon under contract if the Chargers are willing to line his pocket this offseason and if Gordon is willing to settle for less than market-setting money from the Chargers. Both of those things seem fairly likely.
Elliott, on the other hand, may be interested in getting something closer to Todd Gurley ($14.5 million per year) or Le'Veon Bell ($13 million per year) money instead. Again, he has led the league in rushing two out of his three years. The only year he didn't was when Elliott was suspended six games by the NFL. And he still led the league in rushing yards per game that season.
Saquon Barkley is a very popular pick for the top running back in football, but you can easily make the case no one is better than Elliott. Last year his receptions cranked way up, he's been a workhorse back who can easily top 300 carries, he's been incredibly durable, his pass protection is as good as any back in the league and you can run an offense through him.
The Cowboys have repeatedly praised Zeke's production. It's going to be tough for them to argue that they don't need him on the field over the long haul.
But there are some concerns with Elliott. The aforementioned suspension nearly came back into play this offseason when Elliott was forced to meet with Roger Goodell following an NFL investigation into an off-field incident in Las Vegas. Elliott dodged punishment, but he's still on thin ice with the league office. The Cowboys will want some contractual protections if something happens in the future.
Dallas also knows it has Zeke under control for three more years. The Cowboys picked up his fifth-year option for 2020 and can franchise tag Elliott two more seasons after that. It would be contentious and expensive but it would limit their long-term exposure. We've seen them ride DeMarco Murray into the ground and then ditch him.
They could do the same thing with Elliott. Which may be exactly why Zeke is taking a little vacation that might morph into a longer siesta overlapping with the start of Cowboys training camp.