Oxnard, Calif. (AP) — After working out at training camp with family, friends and even fans these days, Ezekiel Elliott is lingering for a while, and it seems like he’s not interested in being the Dallas Cowboys. Feel more comfortable with everything that comes with the team’s star running back.
If Elliott doesn’t return to the form that led to the NFL rushing to the championship in two of its first three seasons, his time in the role could be short-lived and could end next offseason.
Elliott is also satisfied with this reality.
“I think it’s an important season. But I don’t think you can look too far,” Elliott said. “I don’t think there’s any real reason to look that far. I think if I’m taking care of myself every day, I’ll be in really good shape at the end of the season.”
Elliott’s $90 million, six-year extension will end a long hiatus in 2019 after this season, which leaves four years remaining. But this is the last year of guaranteed funding, which increases the chances of cutting costs under the salary cap.
Elliott set his career-lowest scoring average (4.0 yards) in 2020, followed by his lowest scoring average (59) last season, including outside the NFC East Cards only had a 31-yard win in the loss to San Francisco.
Criticism began to mount before that, when he actually had a solid 2019 season with 1,357 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the Cowboys missed the playoffs.
Since then, Elliott has faced the question of whether the wear and tear of his first three years, when he twice exceeded 300 carries, robbed him of the explosiveness of his rookie year — his only full-professional season.
Suffice to say, there are plenty of people who question the $90 million contract, and if Elliott doesn’t guarantee more than $50 million, a lot of people will say “I told you so.”
From Elliott’s point of view, he suffered a partial torn ligament in his right knee last season, which he chose to fix. But he wasn’t expecting his California training camp feeling to last long.
“Some parts of the year are definitely frustrating, but it’s football,” Elliott said. “Today is probably the only day everyone is going to be at 100% from now on. Just doing my best off the court to make sure I stay healthy and ready for Sunday.”
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones took aim at two former Cowboys, receiver Amari Cooper and defensive end Randy Gregory, saying availability played a role in the presence and absence of big money players .
Cooper was unvaccinated and missed two games due to COVID-19 last season, while Gregory was injured in addition to four suspensions, which kept him out for most of two and three seasons game. Cooper was traded to Cleveland to save the salary cap, and Gregory signed with Denver after initially agreeing to a deal with Dallas.
Numbers aside, since Elliott was suspended for six games on domestic violence charges in 2017, his second year, he has been a model available. The former Ohio State standout missed one game in six seasons with an injury.
“Zeke Elliott is one of the hearts of our team,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s a cornerstone player. You see all the extra work he does before practice and after practice. He’s overcame a lot in the game (last year) and I think that speaks volumes about him, you need that Man to win the championship.”
Elliott said his focus this offseason was strengthening the muscles around the injured knee, and he admitted he was concerned about the strain before his knee improved during offseason training. He decided not to have surgery.
Injuries have hampered his explosiveness, and Elliott believes he can bounce back.
“It definitely helped get back that confidence because the injury was tough and it felt like I was missing a step,” Elliott said. “It definitely helped get back the pace I’m used to, getting my confidence back, getting back into my body, getting back into my mind and allowing me to make those cuts.”
A healthy Elliott won’t stop the problem of giving backup running back Tony Pollard more touches. That choir has grown for three years. Offensive coordinator Karen Moore heard it and agreed with it — to a degree.
“I don’t think the Tony incident has anything to do with Zeke components,” Moore said. “I think we’re really excited about Zeke getting what he needs and what we’re leveraging on Zeke, and then Tony’s going to be a great piece.”
Note: RB Aaron Shampklin returns to practice after a COVID-19 absence, and LB Leighton Vander Esch returns after a few days of absence for personal reasons. … TE Jeremy Springkel (Achilles) and rookie Jack Ferguson (hamstring) are coming back, McCarthy said.
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