Free Agency

Report: Ezekiel Elliott Narrows Free-Agent List to Eagles, Jets, Bengals

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.

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Free Agency

2023 NFL Free Agency: 7 Biggest Winners Through First Week

When you talk about free agency in the NFL, it’s always exciting for the fans and even the coaches. Here are some of the biggest winners so far from the opening week of free agency.

7 Biggest Winners

New York Giants

“In free agency, it’s really important to know about the guys you’ve kept that could have gone away. The New York Giants kept Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, and then added tight end Darren Waller.” — Mike Zimmer

“They lost a starting guard in Nick Gates, but added an inside linebacker in Bobby Okereke.” — Marvin Lewis

Philadelphia Eagles

“The Philadelphia Eagles, like the Giants, have also kept a lot of their own players. They lost some, but kept a lot of their best ones like Jason Kelce. It’s not all about who went where, it’s about who stayed there.” — Zimmer

“They lose three defensive starters, but they kept Fletcher Cox as well as Brandon Graham, they keep James Bradberry, they re-did Darius Slay‘s contract, they got Kelce back, they kind of kept the front in place. They keep that front group in place, and now they’ll use the draft and fill in some spots, and develop some more young players.” — Lewis

Chicago Bears

“The Bears made the trade with Carolina that brought in receiver D.J. Moore, then they went out and get two inside linebacker starters. That’s big for them, and they’ll continue to fill in spots. They made some good moves getting players who will help them as they go through a rebuild.” — Lewis

“Tremaine Edmunds is a terrific linebacker. They also signed T.J. Edwards there, they got Nate Davis for their O-line, and they’ve got a lot more draft capital they can use by trading the first overall pick. I think that’s good.” — Zimmer

Atlanta Falcons

“I think the Atlanta Falcons did a nice job with their offensive line with Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom.” — Zimmer

“They also made the trade to get Jonnu Smith, and signed Jessie Bates III on defense. He’s a great young player and great kid. But the thing that Atlanta is riding on is that quarterback. They kind of hedged their bet, they were going with Desmond Ridder as starter, but added Taylor Heinicke in case things don’t go well. ” — Lewis

“They signed Heinicke for two years, $20 million — $10 million a year for him, I don’t know, seems like a good bit of money there.” — Zimmer

Cincinnati Bengals

“They lost Bates but did sign Orlando Brown Jr. to help quarterback Joe Burrow. They lost Samaje Perine and a couple other guys, as well. But in the back of their mind, they’re sitting there thinking, OK, we’re going to have to pay Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, we want to keep Tee Higgins, so some of these things are all being reworked throughout the whole organization because they’re looking to the future, too.” — Zimmer

“And Brown was in the 2018 draft, so he’s still somewhat of a young guy, and still improving. He’s a worker.” — Lewis

Carolina Panthers

“They’re picking off some needs on their roster. They signed quarterback Andy Dalton to be the backup because they’re going to get a quarterback with the first pick.” — Lewis

“Who knows if those guys that they pick are going to be ready. Just because you pick him No. 1 doesn’t mean he’ll be ready. One of the guys they signed was Sam Martin, he’s a really good punter, so that will help them with field position whether the top pick is ready right away or not.” — Zimmer

New Orleans Saints

“Trying to solidify the quarterback position and then going about it and trying to fill other spots, when you’re trying to fill that quarterback chair, that’s really important, and the Saints did that with Derek Carr.” — Lewis

“They re-signed Michael Thomas, signed a couple of defensive tackles, then added Jamaal Williams, who had a lot of touchdowns last season. They’ve done a good job, as well.” — Zimmer

Marvin Lewis is a former head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. He won AP Coach of the Year in 2009, and helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl as defensive coordinator. Follow him on Twitter at @MarvinLewis.

Mike Zimmer is a former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He won Super Bowl XXX as defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.

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