Released last week after seven productive seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, running back Ezekiel Elliott has narrowed his choices for his next team to the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals, ESPN reported on Thursday. He is expected to make a decision by the end of next week.
Elliott was set to count $16.7 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap in 2023, but the team chose to cut him and apply the franchise tag to Tony Pollard, who signed it on Thursday. Pollard will make $10.091 million on the tag in 2023 unless a new contract can be worked out between the two sides.
In 2019, Elliott signed a six-year extension worth $90 million that included $50 million in guaranteed money. But he has topped 1,000 yards only once in the past three seasons (1,002 in 2021).
In 2022, he carried 231 times for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns. It quickly became clear that Pollard (193 carries, 1,007 yards, 9 TDs) was the more effective runner and one with the brighter future in Dallas. Still, Elliott can add plenty of value to a running back-needy team, said Chris Johnson, a former NFL running back and analyst for The 33rd Team.
“I think he’s going to be one of those guys, and I think teams around the league are looking for a guy like him, who can pound the ball,” Johnson said.
With Joe Mixon‘s future in Cincinnati still very much up in the air, and Samaje Perine gone to Denver as a free agent, the Bengals are thin at running back. With a $12.7 million cap figure, Mixon likely will have to take a pay cut to return or become a June 1 release. Cincinnati also has Chris Evans and Trayveon Williams on the roster.
Meanwhile, the Jets may have a temporary need for a top runner. Breece Hall, who suffered a torn ACL as a rookie last season, is expected back but may not be able to handle a full workload for at least the start of the season. The team re-signed Ty Johnson to a one-year contract on Thursday, ESPN reported.
If Elliott chooses the Eagles, he would join a backfield led by newly signed Rashaad Penny, in addition to Boston Scott, Kenneth Gainwell and Trey Sermon. Philadelphia lost Miles Sanders, who signed a free-agent deal with the Carolina Panthers last week. However, NBC Sports reported Thursday evening that the Eagles have not spoken with Elliott, and are content with their current backfield.
“He can be a nice role player for a team that has the potential to make a deep run to the Super Bowl,” Johnson said. “He’s got a chance to pick a real contender.
“I would say go to a team like the Jets. If (Aaron Rodgers) goes over there, with all the playmakers they have, Zeke could be a nice role player for them. He would automatically make the Jets a Super Bowl contender.”
Over his career, Elliott has 8,262 yards rushing and 68 touchdowns. His 1,881 carries are the most in the NFL by over 100 since he entered the league as the No. 4 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and he trails only Derrick Henry in yards and touchdowns during that span.