Houston, TX- It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is not the first person at his position to hold out in regards to contract negotiations. He certainly won’t be the last.
“The premise is simple. In today’s pass-first league, running backs take on less importance than they did just five seasons ago. Go back 10-15 years, and that’s magnified further. If we were to look at the 1980s and 1990s, the difference is pretty darn alarming,” said Vincent Frank, a forbes.com contributor.
Vincent went on to dissect the devaluation of the running back position in today’s NFL. According to Vincent, in 2013 a total of 22 running backs put up 200-plus carries. That number dwindled to 14 this past season. Going back even further, the number of backs who reached that plateau in 2009 also stood at 22. This tells us a story of a league that relied on a running game as much late last decade as it did five years later.
The article also highlighted that this past season there were total of six running backs who made the top 10 list based on yardage that were not drafted in first round. The overall premise is that teams have found out that they can get production from cheaper and younger running backs while having a tremendous amount of success on the field. That lessens the need to either draft a running back high or spend top dollar on a veteran at this position.
And this is 100% true, if we were not talking about the Dallas Cowboys.
You have several teams in the NFL that may rely on more than one guy to get the job done on the ground. Last season, the Seattle Seahawks led the league in rushing offense, however it took three guys to get the job done: Chris Carson (267) Mike Davis (146) and Rashaad Penny (94). Behind them were the Baltimore Ravens led by Lamar Jackson (147) Gus Edwards (139) and Alex Collins (129). The list of teams with multiple running backs that contributes to their team’s ground-game success goes on and on, but previous history has shown that the Dallas Cowboys has always relied on that one “special guy” to get the job done.
The last time we’ve truly seen Dallas’s run-game distributed amongst two guys was during the ’05-07 season that featured Marion Barber and Julius Jones. We would later witness it again in the 09-10 season with Marion Barber and Felix Jones and once in the ’11-12 season featuring Jones and Murray. From 2012-14, the Dallas Cowboys have relied on one guy (DeMarco Murray) who finished his career as a Cowboy with 934 carries. In 2015, Darren McFadden led the way with 239 carries. The closes to him that particular season was Joseph Randle with 70 carries.
When Zeke arrived in 2016, with the exception of Alfred Morris in 2017, no other running back accumulated more than 70 carries per season. The Cowboys immediately wanted Elliott to come in and carry the majority of the offensive load; and finishing the last three seasons as more than 35% of the team’s offense, Zeke has been nothing shy of a disappointment.
Following the Cowboys’ 14-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams this past Saturday, owner Jerry Jones was asked if RB Tony Pollard was his “best negotiator”. Jones responded with a “Zeke who” joke that transpired after Pollard rushed for 42 yards on five carries and a touchdown in Elliot’s absence.
Of course Jones has uttered several other comments this off season in regards to Elliott not being present for training camp, stating “you don’t need a rushing champ to win a Super Bowl.”
Regardless if Jerry Jones feels that their end-season goal can be accomplished without Ezekiel Elliott, what he’s accomplished the past three seasons is more than enough to not want to truly test that theory. Since 2016, Elliott has accumulated over 860 carries, which is more than what half of the other starting running backs have racked up in the past three seasons. There’s several questions we must ask ourselves: are the other running backs ready to step up and fill Elliott’s shoes? Are the Cowboys in a positon to be without a “once in a few generations” talent? Are the fans ready for the drastic change that could possibly happen before our