Running back Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys agreed to a six-year, $90 million contract that ends his five-week holdout.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday that Elliott earned his massive payday.
“Zeke has been arguably our best player,” said Jones, who was in New York to ring the opening bell at the Stock Exchange, in an interview with CNBC. “I’m not trying to be unfair to anybody else. But he’s an incremental part to our success. We’re glad to get him booked in, we’re glad to have him on the team.
“And he plays a position that has some pretty interesting dynamics to it because running backs are short-lived, although we had what I consider to be one of the top five greatest ones in Emmitt Smith, and Emmitt ran the ball for 13 years. So you don’t have to have a four- or five-year career to be a running back. On the other hand, Zeke allows us to create such problems for the defense that then we can open it up to our passing, open it up for Dak Prescott.”
Elliott is in line to receive $50 million in guarantees, trumping the $45 million Todd Gurley received from the Los Angeles Rams, according to ESPN.
“Zeke has a big heart,” Jones said. “Now he’s got a thick pocketbook, too.”
Elliott is expected at practice on Wednesday, but head coach Jason Garrett might not know until late in the week what role Elliott will play in Sunday’s opener against the New York Giants.
“He’s an experienced player,” Garrett said. “He’s familiar with our plan. Everybody loves Zeke. He’s been a great teammate for us. We’re glad to have him here. He brings juice. We’ll be in touch with our trainers. And you have to get his feedback, how he’s feeling.”
When asked when Garrett expected to see Elliott, the head coach offered the following:
“He was in our 7:30 meeting, here for a full Wednesday practice,” Garrett said.
Garrett said the message to every running back on the roster will be the same: “Be ready.”
Rookie Tony Pollard is still expected to see time in the game, Garrett said. Pollard worked with the first-team offense during training camp and preseason.
Elliott and his agent, Rocky Arceneaux, left his holdout headquarters in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on Monday with the expectation that a contract extension with the Cowboys would be finalized before the Week 1 home game against the team’s NFC East rival.
Elliott bolted for Mexico in July as the Cowboys boarded a team charter for Oxnard, Calif., site of their summertime training camp.
Elliott, 24, has two years remaining on his rookie contract and is scheduled to earn $3,853,000 in 2019 and $9,099,000 in 2020. The two-time NFL rushing champion was targeting a deal that would make him the highest-paid player at the position.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Dallas’ five-year contract extension with right tackle La’el Collins that was made official on Tuesday freed up almost $6 million in salary-cap space. Even with Elliott signed, the Cowboys have a queue of skill-position talent waiting to be paid.
Prescott, who did not hold out, is reportedly chasing a contract worth $35 million or more per season.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper is in the final year of his deal, and the receiver market continues to escalate. New Orleans Saints star Michael Thomas signed a five-year, $100 million deal in August, and Atlanta Falcons All-Pro Julio Jones is in line to raise the bar higher in his ongoing negotiations with Atlanta.