Cowboys, Zeke Elliott keeping contract negotiations quiet, but both sides maintaining dialogue

Expect to hear more rumblings about Zeke Elliott and his displeasure with the Cowboys as training camp rolls near. Unless, of course, the sides work something out. Which isn't nearly as out of the question as some might have you believe.

While some of the rhetoric has ratcheted up via third parties this week, with various reports about how nuclear this situation might become, two sources who know the star running back well doubt he actually conducts some sort of meaningful holdout. And there is actually more optimism that a deal could be brokered than many are letting on.

There hasn't been a whole lot said about the process publicly, which I am told is by design. The sides are keeping things quiet but are very much in dialogue, sources said, and there has been a dialogue. If things take an unforeseen turn for the worse, then perhaps drastic measures are called for, but even in that instance two of the sources I spoke to doubted Elliott would miss actual games that count. The Cowboys have stood by him – to a fault – through his myriad allegations and Jerry Jones realizes how important Elliott is to that offense and I just don't see this one getting entirely off the tracks.

Conversations with executives from other clubs and discussions with forward-thinking agents continue to lead me to believe that a short-term (2-3 years, tops) deals for both Elliott and the Chargers Melvin Gordon make the most sense and are the best solutions to these contract quandaries. Given the nature of that position, and, in the case of Elliott, his ongoing off-field issues of one magnitude or the other, landing a Todd Gurley-eqsue contract in this climate seems far-fetched, and neither is remotely in position to sit out a year like Le'Veon Bell did, and have nothing really to gain by doing so.

Get as much money in the next 18 months as possible, with guarantees through 2020, and maybe include language about no more than one franchise tag being able to be applied in the future (or, best case scenario, language precluding any tags) and be ready to hit the market as still a young-enough RB after the 2020 season. That term and structure, I am more convinced than ever, makes far and away the most sense from player and team standpoint. 

How stadiums factor into CBA talks (and forget about 18 games)

Asked several people around the league in prominent positions where the idea of the 18-game season, with no player allowed to play more than 16 games, came from in the first place. The name I heard more often than any other was Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Problem is, I still have yet to talk to a football person in the NFL who thinks it is a remotely viable idea, and there seems to be no momentum behind it. "No way that's happening," as one high ranking team official put it.

While it has absorbed plenty of media attention, it is not an issue that is really getting traction in the CBA talks themselves, I'm told. The biggest issue of contention currently, sources said, is the idea of stadium credits and the player's willingness to continue to take money out to help subsidize new stadiums and/or significant stadium upgrades as has been done in the past. There is really only one municipality dealing with what the league would deem a stadium crisis, in Buffalo, which is natural considering how many new facilities have been constructed in the last 15 years or so. So it isn't as pressing a need as it once was, though there are always teams looking for hundred-million dollar upgrades to current stadiums for new massive scoreboard or luxury boxes or whatever else.

It is anything but sexy, but when you talk to people with skin in the game about the unprecedented progress in CBA talks so soon before the current deal expires, it isn't long before the term "stadium credits" comes up as something that could stall things out this summer, and perhaps beyond. Regardless, both sides have already shown a common determination to address labor peace in a proactive manner we haven't quite seen before and I hear enough optimistic voices to believe getting something done sometime in 2020 is still hardly out of the question.

Herbert standing out in early scouting grades

I am not one to make too much of the annual senior scouting grades that come out of the BLESTO/National scouting services every year at this time. They do serve as a benchmark for NFL teams as they head into the college season -- at least to varying degrees depending on the organization -- and are worth perusing, though obviously, the upcoming college season will determine how these prospects look come next spring's draft.

Yet it was hard to overlook how Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert stands out when reading over all of the draft grades. These two combined services love the QB. That shouldn't be a shocker, as he was generating first-overall draft pick chatter at this time a year ago as a junior (and as we first reported in the fall, it was well known in the scouting community that he was very likely to stay in school). Herbert had an overall grade of 7.21 from the scouting service -- a full half-point above any other player they evaluated (and two full points above any other senior QB).

The other players with grades above 6.50: Alabama linebacker Raekwon Davis (6.72), Notre Dame end Julian Okwara (6.71), South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (6.71),  LSU corner Kristian Fulton (6.51), Washington tackle Trey Adams (6.51) and Vandy tight end Jared Pinkney (6.51).

CBS Sports Insider

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday... Full Bio

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