FRISCO, Texas -- Free agent running back Ezekiel Elliott was once one of the faces of the Dallas Cowboys, and the fan favorite may soon be once again. CBS Sports HQ senior NFL insider Josina Anderson reported that the Cowboys are meeting with Elliott's representation at The Star in Frisco on Wednesday a day before the start of the 2024 NFL Draft

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones and team COO and EVP Stephen Jones confirmed the report Thursday night. 

"We spent a lot of time with Zeke yesterday" Jerry Jones said Thursday. 

"Yeah, we just bumped into each other and visited a little bit," Stephen Jones said Thursday with a laugh. "Had a little beer and moved on."

The younger Jones met with Elliott and his representation, Rocky Arceneaux, Wednesday at a restaurant near The Star, the Cowboys' team facility. That same night, Dallas' personnel department had dinner at Dee Lincoln Prime, a steakhouse near the facility, and both Elliott and Arceneaux happened to also be dining there. They were then invited to sit down with the Cowboys' brass. 

The elder Jones didn't want to guarantee a reunion with Elliott because he revealed the pursuit of the running back is "a competitive situation" meaning Dallas isn't the only team talking to Zeke. He did make clear that his interest in Elliott is "real."

"Is it real that Zeke is going to play next year in my mind?'' Jerry rhetorically questioned. "I think it's very real that he's going to play in my view. But I don't want to go too far here because it's competition.''

Dallas lost eight of its own players in free agency, tied for the third-most in a single offseason in Cowboys history, and that number includes the team's 2023 starting running back Tony Pollard, who signed a three-year, $21.8 million contract with the Tennessee Titans. Rico Dowdle, an undrafted free agent in 2020, and 2023 sixth-round pick Deuce Vaughn are the top two backs on the Cowboys' current depth chart. 

Elliott, who turns 29 on July 22, totaled career-lows across the board in rushing yards (642), rushing touchdowns (three), carries (184) and yards per carry (3.5) for the 4-13 New England Patriots. The fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft racked up three Pro Bowl seasons in his first four years with the Cowboys, and he led the NFL in rushing yards twice in 2016 and 2018. They released him in the earlier portion of a six-year, $90 million extension they signed him to back in 2019, two years before his rookie deal was set to expire. 

"Just let me say this,'' Jerry said. "I thought he played well the last part of the season at New England. Very well."  

His rushing yards per game figure has subsequently declined every season he has been in the NFL after he burst onto the scene in 2016 by leading the league in rushing yards (1,631), rushing yards per game (108.7) and carries (322). He earned his only First Team All-Pro selection that season. Elliott's 8,262 rushing yards and 68 rushing touchdowns stand as both the third-most in each category in Cowboys history behind only two Pro Football Hall of Famers in Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith. 

Elliott totaled 16 rushing yards on six carries as well as six receiving yards on two catches in his homecoming to AT&T Stadium in Week 4, a game Dallas won over New England 38-3.

"He is always going to be loved here," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said in the lead up to that game. "The love that he has, still today, in this locker room is tremendous. In our time together, he was clearly one of the most popular players. He is a tremendous teammate. He still is. His name usually comes up once a week. Great guy."

Quarterback Dak Prescott referred to Elliott as "like my little brother, a best friend obviously" when asked about his former running back before squaring off with the Patriots. 

"That's like my little brother, a best friend obviously," Prescott said back in September. "We came into this thing together and grew on the field and off the field. It [his time with Elliott] was awesome. Obviously, it was unfortunate for him to go play for another team, but it's part of this business. We learn that pretty quick and seeing it when we had to part, it's part of it. Happy for him, always pulling for him. He's doing well. Excited for him."  

However, the pursuit of Elliott isn't adding any shades of gray to Dallas' plan to look at potentially selecting a running back in the draft's second or third round Friday evening. 

"No," Jerry said when asked if Elliott will impact their draft plans. 

Nor will having his name show up on their 2024 salary cap sheet twice, once for a new contract and another time for the just over $6 million in dead cap space that they have for releasing him early from the six-year extension they signed him to years ago. 

"Not even a consideration,'' Jerry said. "He's earned that $6 million. We've already spent it. You have to pay that whether he's here or not. It won't affect one thing with how he would help our team this year.''

Zeke as RB1?

The Cowboys addressed their offensive and defensive fronts in the first three rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft, but Dallas still has a hole at running back. That's an opening Jerry Jones would be fine filling with Zeke and returning him to his former status of "starting running back of the Dallas Cowboys."

"Yes," Jones said Friday night when asked if Elliott has RB1/starter capabilities at this stage of his career. "We talked about this last night too: Is Zeke someone of interest? Yeah, he is someone of interest. I saw him play his last games with New England. I thought he played well enough to be a starter."  

But, with four picks remaining on Saturday, a fifth (No. 174), a sixth (No. 216) and two sevenths (No. 233 and No. 244), there are still opportunities to pluck a running back they like and place him onto the Dallas roster. Only four running backs were drafted in the first three rounds, all of which were selected on Day 2: Texas' Jonathon Brooks (46th overall to the Panthers), Florida State's Trey Benson (No. 66 overall to the Cardinals), Michigan's Blake Corum (No. 83 to the Rams) and USC's MarShawn Lloyd (No. 88 overall to the Packers). 

"First of all, the draft is not over, and that's a thought," Jones said. "There was a long time before a running back was taken actually in today's draft, and you also are keenly interested in seeing what the future might look like with Zeke.

Jones isn't ruling out any running back acquisition options, making it clear the way the Cowboys running back room looks now will not be its final form entering training camp. 

"We have it in our power to feel good about the running back room. Period," Jones said. "Are we through with the running back room? I'm not going to answer that. I'm not trying to be coy. I don't need to answer that. Zeke is good enough to be in the running back room, and he is good enough to play for the Cowboys. ... We do have other running backs, and by the way, there's very likely after the draft as time goes along, I've seen good running backs change hands during the season. ... Yes, it hasn't surprised us at all how the running backs have gone [in the draft]." 

Even if the team selects a running back, there very well still may be a spot for Elliott on the 2024 Dallas Cowboys. 

"Well, that's assuming Zeke is here, but I thought Zeke was one of the best teammates, practice players, committers giving you everything that as a mentor or as an example of how to prepare, practice and be ready to play a game," Jones said. "I don't know that I remember a player that's done it any better than Zeke, and I have all the confidence in the world that should we have him, he'll bring that to the table. He would be a great at any position to have around the locker room. He's outstanding in the locker room."