All eyes will be on Ezekiel Elliott as he makes his return to Arlington, Texas in Week 4, as the New England Patriots have a road bout against the Dallas Cowboys at Jerry’s World on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
Elliott, who spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career with the Cowboys, was cut on March 15 at the official start of free agency in a move that saved the team over $10.9 million after he posted career lows in many major categories last season.
Still, Elliott had a tremendous career in Dallas overall, which he’ll be honored for Sunday. That said, is such a moment necessary?
Not according to Skip Bayless, who opined on Thursday’s edition of “Undisputed” that the Cowboys shouldn’t honor Elliott, largely due to his drop in performance after signing a six-year, $90 million extension before the 2019 season.
“The first year, it was off the charts,” Bayless said. “It’s one of the all-time great rookie running back years you’ll ever see. He was the best player in the league that year, and he deserved the Rookie of the Year over Dak [Prescott]. He was very good in his second and third years, but then for four straight years, it was just hard to find 2016 Zeke.”
Elliott, 28, led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards in his rookie season in 2016 — a Cowboys rookie record — on 5.1 yards per carry, while also totaling 15 rushing touchdowns. The following year, he missed six games due to a domestic violence suspension. In 10 games played, he ran for just 4.1 yards per carry. Elliott bounced back in 2018, leading the league with 1,434 rushing yards.
In 2019, which was Elliott’s first full season after signing an extension, he totaled 1,357 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry, which was followed by 4.0 yards per carry in 2020 and 4.2 in 2021. Elliott was released after the 2022 season, which saw him run for just 3.8 yards per carry, while fellow running back Tony Pollard — whom Dallas applied the $10.1 million running back franchise tag to in the offseason — rose to prominence.
Elliott signed a one-year deal with the Patriots worth up to $6 million in August and is coming off his best game thus far, rushing for 80 yards on 5.0 yards per carry in a 15-10 win over the New York Jets, the Patriots’ first of the season.
On the other hand, cohost Michael Irvin thinks the Cowboys should absolutely give Elliott his moment.
“Zeke put up 1,600 yards his rookie season, 15 touchdowns,” Irvin began. “He should’ve clearly won Rookie of the Year. They gave it to Dak Prescott because Dak started and had a great season that season, but it clearly was Zeke that led that football team.
“He should be honored; he meant a great deal to this team. [They] went 13-3 that first year, pulled [them] right up out of the gutter.”
In all, Elliott — the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 — posted four 1,000-plus rushing seasons, led the league in rushing twice, was a three-time Pro Bowler and earned one All-Pro honor with the Cowboys. He’s third all-time in Cowboys franchise history in rushing yards (8,262) behind Dallas icons Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.
In 103 games with Elliott, Dallas went 64-39 all-time, winning 62% of those matchups. The Cowboys appeared in the playoffs four times with Elliott (2016, 2018, 2021-22), going 2-4 in those games.
In three games with the Patriots thus far in 2023, Elliott has picked up 122 rushing yards on 28 carries (4.4 yards per carry) for zero touchdowns. He has also added 21 receiving yards on six catches over that same span.
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