Timing is everything.
This usually infallible logic remains so when discussing the situation between the Dallas Cowboys and All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott, as the latter holds out of training camp in lieu of a contract extension. Elliott wasn't on the charter flight with the majority of the team on July 25, and was officially a no-show when the time came for mandatory attendance one day later. Team owner Jerry Jones officially called his two-time rushing champ "late,'' and the club went on to place him on the Reserve/Did Not Report list.
Since then, things have ratcheted up between the two sides, and that brings us to the current state of affairs and a prevailing question:
Just what is going on with Elliott and the Cowboys?
The short answer is things are progressing well in contract talks, with sources close to the situation confirming that an offer has been made to Elliott and proposals have been swapped. Conversations are ongoing and happened as recently as Monday morning, which happens to be around the same time the 24-year-old boarded a plane for Mexico in a move that some viewing the situation from the outside have deemed unwise, as it relates to optics. Contextually speaking, however, Elliott's decision to head to Cabo during negotiations is wrapped in positive intent — sources affirmed to me — his goal being to train in a focused environment away from possible distraction, and to be closer to Southern California for a shorter trip when things eventually materialize on the contract front.
He also trained in Cabo during his six-game suspension in 2017, and at the same place owned by his agent.
Elliott returned from that stint in Mexico a chiseled specimen.
Meanwhile, Jones had an interview with CBS 11 that raised eyebrows, but mostly because of how his quotes were parsed.
"Well of course, Emmitt had participated in a Super Bowl, being the first rushing champ — now this is very important — first time ever a rushing champion was on a Super Bowl-winning team," Jones said. "The point there is, you don't have to have a rushing champion to win a Super Bowl. Emmitt was the first one to do it. That's one of the dilemmas at running back, is that the league knows that you can win Super Bowls and not have the Emmitt Smith back there, or not have Zeke back there."
Needless to say, that's where most headlines stopped reading and/or listening, and headlines were thereby constructed that painted it as a slight to Elliott.
There was more Jones had to say, though.
"Consequently, when we are looking and putting Zeke's contract in place, we've got to realize that the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl," he furthered. "And so you have to do all of the things — along with having Zeke — that allow you too have other players so that you can win the Super Bowl. That's what we're going through."
The totality of Jones' comments provide needed context in the situation, and the reality is the Hall of Fame owner has not moved away from wanting Elliott locked into a long-term deal with the Cowboys. That isn't to say Jones is naive to how well-timed his comments were with Elliott heading to Cabo, and you could justifiably view them as an attempt to regain leverage in a situation wherein the Cowboys don't have much of it, yet. That scale shifts toward the organization with each passing day as Aug. 6 rapidly approaches, because Elliott will lose an entire accrued season toward free agency if he doesn't report to camp by that NFL deadline.
This means the Cowboys would still own his rights in 2021 if no extension is penned before then, giving them 100% of the leverage at that point.
The channels of communication remain open and both sides are still optimistic a deal will get done soon, and the holdup appears to be mostly driven by guaranteed money and some language in the contract offer. All sides believe it'll be ironed out soon, and while the re-signing of Alfred Morris after the first padded practice stokes the fires further, but the Cowboys insist the reunion with Morris is to add depth at the RB position in camp due to Elliott's absence. Morris was serviceable during Elliott's six-game suspension in 2017, yes, but he totaled just 790 rushing yards along with three rushing touchdowns in his two years as a Cowboy.
For comparison, Elliott ran for 983 yards and seven rushing TDs in 2017 alone, despite having missed 37.5% of the season.
No, Morris is not being treated as a replacement for Elliott.
As it stands, patience is being exercised on both the Cowboys and the Elliott front, as they inch closer toward making him the highest-paid RB in NFL history. That is also something Jones said in 2019, for those who may have forgotten as this holdout rears forward.
It's because they're both playing the market to drive their value higher, and both have ultimate leverage over the Cowboys when considering their position and the fact their contracts expire after 2019. The longer they wait, the higher the odds of their respective paydays being much larger, whereas Elliott is the market-setter — unlike his compatriots — who also plays a much more brutalizing position with a shorter shelf life. Landing a deal a few months ahead of the original schedule, and this is considering the Cowboys had planned to extend Elliott in the spring of 2020, provides security for a two-time All-Pro that is ready to ink a deal right now.
Prescott and Cooper, contrarily, are in no rush — especially with the CBA renegotiation also on the horizon.
Again, timing is indeed everything.