National Football League
Ezekiel Elliott believes he can still be primary running back in return to Cowboys
National Football League

Ezekiel Elliott believes he can still be primary running back in return to Cowboys

Updated May. 2, 2024 8:57 a.m. ET

Ezekiel Elliott's reunion with the Dallas Cowboys comes long after his days as a two-time rushing champion, presumably as part of a committee of running backs.

The 2016 All-Pro isn't ready to settle for such a role just yet.

"I think I still am a dominant guy," Elliott told reporters at a Cowboys charity event Wednesday night, a day after signing a one-year deal worth up to $3 million. "I’ve got to go out there and prove that. That’s the motivation. I think you all know how I feel about competing and leaving it all out there for my team."

One thing will be different for sure: Elliott's jersey number.


He's sticking with 15, his Ohio State number, and his choice for his only season with the New England Patriots after becoming an instant star in Dallas while wearing No. 21.

"I just kind of look at it as a different era," said Elliott, who will turn 29 about the same time the Cowboys report to training camp in California in July. "Since they made the rule that running backs could wear the single digits or the teens, I knew I wanted to switch."

After getting drafted fourth overall in 2016, Elliott teamed with quarterback Dak Prescott to create a dynamic rookie pairing that led Dallas on an 11-game winning streak and the top seed in the NFC playoffs. 

Prescott then edged Elliott for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after the Cowboys lost to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in their playoff debut.

The usually stoic Prescott was clearly bothered by the release of Elliott after seven seasons in a cost-cutting move last year. It went without saying how Prescott would react to his return.

"Super excited," Prescott said. "Knowing our history, my experience with him as a brother, but in this case as a teammate. Understanding what he brings to the team, just the locker room alone, the culture he sets. A guy that does everything the right way."

Elliott spent last season as the backup to Rhamondre Stevenson with the Patriots but started the last five games when Stephenson was injured, finishing with a team-best 642 yards rushing but career lows in touchdowns (three) and yards per carry (3.5).

Elliott rejoins a team that includes Rico Dowdle, Elliott's teammate from 2020-22, second-year players Deuce Vaughn and Hunter Luepke and another young, unproven back in Malik Davis. Dallas also added journeyman Royce Freeman this offseason.

Prescott thinks Elliott is the perfect fit. Never mind the declining production of just one 1,000-yard season — and just barely at 1,002 — out of the past four.

Does an Ezekiel Elliott reunion make sense for the Cowboys?

"He’s a real guy. He’s honest," Prescott said. "He can have fun when it’s time, but when it’s time to be serious and lock in, there’s nobody better than him. It’s something every young guy should follow, the way he goes about his business on the field."

Fueled by rushing titles in two of his first three seasons, Elliott is the third-leading rusher in franchise history with 8,262 yards. He trails two Pro Football Hall of Famers — all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.

The three-time Pro Bowler also knows the history of postseason disappointment in Dallas, having made the playoffs with the Cowboys four times without getting past the divisional round.

The biggest shock of the Prescott era came without Elliott last season. The NFC East champs were stunned by Green Bay 48-32 in a wild-card game at home, becoming the first team in NFL history to win 12 games in three consecutive seasons and not reach a conference championship game.

"I’ve got unfinished business," Elliott said. "I’m here to chase the ring."

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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