FRISCO, TX — It's the end of an era in North Texas. Ezekiel Elliott, the two-time NFL rushing champ who is already statistically one of the best running backs in the history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise, has officially been released in 2023.
A former fourth-overall pick of the Cowboys in 2016, Elliott joined quarterback Dak Prescott that season as two rookies who took the NFL by storm and simultaneously ushered in a new era in Dallas. As the 27-year-old enters free agency, he does so still performing at a high level, his departure from the Cowboys being rooted in the team's need to maneuver its salary cap.
Jerry Jones, owner and general manager in Dallas, issued an official statement on the decision.
"Zeke's impact and influence is seared into the Cowboys franchise in a very special and indelible way. He has been a consummate professional and leader that set a tone in our locker room, on the practice field and in the huddle. Zeke defined what a great teammate should be, and anyone that has ever played a team sport would be lucky to have a teammate like Zeke and be much better for it. His commitment and passion for winning is selfless, and the accountability he brings everyday earned the respect of our coaches, his teammates and our entire organization. He wore the Cowboys Star with pride and purpose every single time he put it on, and we're a better franchise because of the example he set for veterans and rookies alike. That carried over into our community as well, with Zeke's generosity and spirit about giving and caring for others.
We have mutually agreed with Zeke that the best decision for everyone is that he will be able to experience free agency, and we can increase our flexibility and options as well. This is one of the toughest parts of operating a team. Moments like this come, and extremely difficult decisions and choices are made. For the franchise. For me personally. For players too. We will always have a special place and love for Zeke and what he means to our Cowboys family, both as a person and a player. That will never change."
Elliott departs the Cowboys ranked third on their all-time rushing yards list with 8,262, behind only Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith — only five rushing touchdowns shy of surpassing Dorsett (72) for second-most in that category while playing in 54 fewer games, and in a pass-heavy culture of professional football.
Also ranked as third-best in number of 100-yard games and fifth-most in scrimmage yards, Elliott's impact on the field was felt, as was his charity work off of it with organizations such as The Salvation Army and others in the local Dallas area, e.g., For Oak Cliff, a charity in urban Dallas that focuses on hosting food drives, GED courses, improvement to neighborhood parks and camps for underprivileged kids.
His famous "feed me" gesture, brought over from his legendary collegiate stretch with the Ohio State Buckeyes, will resonate long after his name is removed from the locker he's resided in the past seven seasons, as will the laundry list of top plays that include impact runs and hurdles over would-be tacklers who underestimated his athleticism.
And then there's the punishing style of play he entered the league with that complemented his speed and athleticism — shades of his first-ever meeting with former Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor during the 2016 preseason immediately coming to mind here.
For the Cowboys, the page turns to Tony Pollard, who is currently on a franchise tag while the two sides attempt to hash out a long-term deal before mid-July, and backup running back Malik Davis. There's also a chance they use one of their many draft picks at the position, and it remains uncertain on if they'll retain Rico Dowdle, an unrestricted free agent as of March 15.
Elliott will now look to join only his second NFL team since entering the league, and with plenty to prove.