Mick Shots: Of Course Zeke Returns In Time

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FRISCO, Texas – Yep, cats still don’t die in trees.

And players don’t miss paychecks.

History is our best teacher.

For those who have been following along, they will remember back on July 26 when Ezekiel Elliott failed to report to the first official day of training camp in Oxnard, Calif., and seemingly sent the Cowboys world into dizzying panic, this parable was offered up, courtesy of a lesson taught me four decades ago by my _Dallas Times Herald_ colleague Frank Luksa, who had covered the Dallas Cowboys from near their 1960 inception.

A wise man, this Frank was. And as I recounted, this was the lesson learned about contract holdouts, Frank’s favorite analogy:

Oh, when a cat gets stuck up in a tree, everyone begins to fret. They call the fire department. They try rattling the branches to encourage the cat to come down. They use poles trying to poke the feline. Anxiety grows high. But you know what? Have you ever found a dead cat up in a tree?

His point being, cats eventually come down when they grow hungry and thirsty, and players staging a contract holdout eventually sign to avoid missing a paycheck.

And what do you know?

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, five days before the start of the 2019 regular season, the Cowboys, frustrated the deal wasn’t consummated Tuesday night after Zeke crossed the Mexican border flying into DFW International, got the call from his representatives that they were ready to sign the extension offer on the table.

Done deal.

Now for simplicity sake, you are told the extension is six years, $90 million, with $50 million guaranteed. But what the fine print explains, the whole deal really is an eight-year, $103 million since the _extension_ does not technically begin until 2021, with the two-year existing total of $13 million on his rookie contract still counting.

That means, if you divide $103 million by 8, you get right at $13 million a year, absolutely market value.

So, and agents do this all the time to trick up the numbers, they will tell you the extension’s average is six years, $90 million, or an average of $15 million a year, which on the surface makes Zeke the highest paid running back in NFL history. And great, Zeke even said he wanted to be the highest paid one, and when asked why on Wednesday afternoon, he simply said, “Because I believe I’m the best.”

No argument from me on that point, and really none from the Cowboys since owner Jerry Jones said in an interview Wednesday morning after ringing the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange that Zeke was the Cowboys’ “best player on the team.”

As pointed out on July 26, these contracts are intricate and made more difficult this year since 2020 is the last year of the CBA, which states a player’s cap hit from that year going forward cannot increase more than 30 percent per year, and why signing bonuses this year have been modest – Zeke’s is $7.5 million – but option bonuses and roster bonuses have become quite popular to make the numbers work.

These things take time. This one took nearly every reasonable second if Zeke was going to get in even a modicum of practice to be ready to play at 3:25 p.m. Sunday in the opener against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium.

So there he was, all smiles after being awaken at 6 a.m. Wednesday that the deal was done, rushing over here to The Star to participate in the team’s Breakfast Club meeting, signing the paperwork and then hustling off to practice, his first since the last minicamp workout back in mid-June.

Find it amusing since so many want to declare a winner in these negotiations. Look, Zeke wins, he gets his market-value money. The Cowboys win, they get their two-time NFL rushing champ back into practice just in time for the season opener, though, how much he actually plays is TBD, without resetting the market.

And in the end, everybody is happy, despite the frustrations, despite what many perceived as snarky comments and despite the delay. Oh, and despite the endless streams of printed or spoken word, like 41 days’ worth, fanning the hysteria. Hey look, all’s fair in love and negotiations, and these things usually take care of themselves, Jerry’s line not mine.

What ultimately got this one solved? Sounds as if the Cowboys drew a line in the sand, that this was finally it. No more haggling.

Hallelujah, and gosh, all’s right in the world. Zeke is happy. The Cowboys are happy. You are happy the Cowboys will not be starting the season with one-arm tied behind their backs. Consider this an anxiety buster.

A whole lot of worrying for nothing over what used to be standard operating procedure back in the day when there was no salary cap and no CBA rules to discourage these contractual disputes from disrupting training camps on multiple fronts year in and year out. Can’t tell you how many hours used to be spent covering these types of negotiations during camp – from Tony Dorsett to Randy White to Emmitt Smith to Michael Irvin to Emmitt Smith again.

But in the end, you know, the cat always comes down.

History tells us so.

  • Oops: OK, that was a long shot. Here is something to smoke in your pipe. How much will Zeke be capable of playing Sunday? Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett says his staff will do its best to gauge that over the three practices. Zeke the same, saying even he will be “trying to gauge what kind of workload I can have.” So Tony Pollard and even fullback Jamize Olawale be prepared. Can’t imagine Zeke is ready for even half the snaps.
  • Line Moves: This type of playtime gauge also applies to the defensive line. Remember, defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford missed all the camp practices rehabbing, and can’t imagine they are ready for like 50 snaps in the game. And with Taco Charlton’s ankle, Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder better be ready to go. And on second thought, same likely applies to DB Byron Jones just returning from hip surgery once camp continued here at The Star..
  • Star Shots: Inside La’el Collins numbers indicate that purported six-year, $58.5 million extension really comes down to $19.96 million fully guaranteed over the first three years, and his structure saves the Cowboys $5.7 million against the 2019 cap . . . As for Zeke, the two years remaining on his rookie deal only charge $200,000 more than they originally would have with this new extension . . . And you know that out-of-this-world Jared Goff extension, well, when adding the two-year total of $27.1 million left on his rookie deal to his four-year extension, that means he has a six-year, $161 million total, which comes to $26.8 million a year.

So today’s history lesson?

Beware the hidden numbers.

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