NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers
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Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones spent plenty of time last week going out of his way to tease three-time Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott's potential return .

As of Tuesday morning, Elliott's return became official. The eight-year veteran running back, who turns 29 on July 22, made it clear a Cowboys homecoming has always been his ultimate goal since Dallas released him during the 2023 offseason. 

"This was my priority. Doing what I could do to get back here," Elliott said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, at the Eric Dickerson Charity Golf Tournament on Monday. "I have a lot left to accomplish here. I'm excited to get back with the fellas and chase that ring."

Jones made Elliott the fourth overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he instantly rewarded the team's faith in him after leading the entire NFL in rushing yards (1,631), rushing yards per game (108.7) and carries (322) as a rookie, earning First-Team All-Pro honors. That play led to Dallas earning the NFC's one seed, but the Cowboys lost on a last-second field goal, 34-31, in the NFC Divisional Round against the Green Bay Packers. Elliott proceeded to rack up three Pro Bowls in his first four seasons, but his rushing yards per game average has declined in every season of his career since. His 8,262 rushing yards and 68 rushing touchdowns in Dallas both ranks as third-most in franchise history, trailing only Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith, two Pro Football Hall of Famers, in both categories. 

"From 2016, we've been working on building this franchise to get a chance to win the Super Bowl," Elliott said. "That is obviously the priority. That's the bar."

The reason the Cowboys moved on from Elliott last offseason is because he played like the most inefficient running back in football in 2022: He ranked last in yards per carry (3.8), yards per touch from scrimmage (3.9), percentage of runs for 10 or more yards (7.4%) and tackles avoided (32) among the 22 players with 200 or more carries in 2022. However, he feels a lot better about a knee injury he was dealing with that season. 

"I think I'm good," Elliott said. "My body felt really good last year. My body felt good all of last year. I got my physical. My PCL looks to be healed. So health wise I think that I'm definitely better than when I left."

Elliott signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots in 2023, and he proceeded to total career-lows in nearly every running back metric: rushing yards (642), rushing touchdowns (three), yards per carry (3.5) and carries (184). He also caught 51 passes for 313 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. For a Patriots squad that went 4-13 in 2023 and ended up with the third overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, Elliott's rushing yards (642)  and catches (51) led a moribund offense. 

"I can play at high level at other places," Elliott said. "I went down to New England. It wasn't a year we wanted. We struggled as a team. But it was cool to kind of get a taste of another franchise and see how things are done."

The running back room Elliott returns to in Dallas is much different than the one he departed. The Cowboys' 2023 starting running back and Elliott's former understudy Tony Pollard is now a Tennessee Titan after signing a three-year, $21.8 million deal in free agency this offseason. Rico Dowdle, an undrafted free agent in 2020, and Deuce Vaughn, an undersized (5'6, 176 pounds) 2023 sixth-round pick, are probably the top two backs on the Cowboys' current depth that Elliott will have to compete with for the starting role in 2024. 

"I feel like I'm still a starter," Elliott said. "I got the chance to start down the stretch last year. I felt comfortable in that role. I am looking forward to doing what I need to do for this team."

Jones feels the exact same way as Elliott does, meaning it's time for Cowboys fans to get their No. 21 jerseys out of the depths of their closets. 

"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."