Dallas Cowboys

Should Cowboys regret Ezekiel Elliott's massive extension?

May 24

Ezekiel Elliott will enter the 2022 NFL season as the highest-paid running back in the league.

But since signing his six-year, $90 million contract extension in September 2019, he hasn't put up the numbers he did in the season leading up to his jackpot extension. 

And on Tuesday's "Undisputed," Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe discussed whether paying Zeke has proven to be a costly decision — literally and figuratively — for the Dallas Cowboys franchise.

Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott has the highest salary amongst all NFL RBs I UNDISPUTED

Zeke has averaged fewer yards a game every season since entering the league and hasn't averaged over 70 yards on the ground since 2019. Was it a mistake for Dallas to give him a big money deal?

"When you're paying a guy top-one, top-two money, and he's giving you 18th or 19th player in the league production, based on that, absolutely it was a mistake to pay him," Sharpe said. "He hasn't lived up to what you paid him for."

In his first three NFL seasons, Elliott rushed for 4,048 yards on 868 carries, adding 28 touchdowns and 4.7 yards per carry. He rushed for 101.2 yards per game and was a significant receiving threat, hauling in 135 receptions for 1,199 yards and six touchdowns, posting 19 100-yard rushing performances over that time span. 

Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards in 2016 (1,631) and 2018 (1,434), and was also the only player to gain over 4,000 rushing yards from 2016-2018.

For that reason, Bayless said Tuesday he understands why Elliott got the money that he did, even if his production has tapered off.

"How big of a mistake was it?" Bayless said. "Well, on a scale from 1-10 it was a zero mistake. I didn't condemn it then, so I can't be a 20-20 hindsight hypocrite and say, 'How dare you? How stupid of you Jerry Jones!' I loved it. I was dancing. I was so excited because he was returning from Cabo. He had been down there training. He came back, and he was still running in Cabo's sand as they started to play real football games."

Indeed, it hasn't been pretty for Elliott and the 'Boys since he signed his monumental contract extension.

In the last three seasons, Elliott has rushed for 3,338 yards on 782 carries and 28 touchdowns. He is still putting up 4.3 yards per carry, but only averages 69.5 rushing yards per game. He's collecting 3.2 receptions per game and 21.8 receiving yards per game.

During those three years, Elliott has 11 100-yard rushing games, and just two in each of the last two seasons after having at least five per season in the previous four seasons.

"Once a team pays a man, they aren't paying him for what he's done, they are paying him for what they think he's going to do," Sharpe said.

Elliott was third in the Associated Press' NFL MVP voting in 2016, first-team All-Pro in 2016, second-team All-Pro in 2018, and made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2018. Since then, Zeke only has one Pro Bowl appearance, which was the season following his mega-deal. He also has the highest cap hit among running backs at $18.22 million and the highest cash earning in 2022 among running backs at $12.4 million.

Before Elliot signed the contract, the Cowboys had a combined record of 32-16 and made the playoffs twice, losing in the divisional round in both instances. Since Zeke's new deal, the Cowboys have gone 26-23 and only made the playoffs once (2021), where they again lost in the divisional round.

The 2022 season is still a few months away, but expectations are always high for Jerry Jones' Cowboys.

Will his star running back finally silence the haters and make a return to form? Week 1 of the season will begin to reveal the answer.

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