(Editor's Note: With over 20 players set for unrestricted free agency, the Cowboys' roster is destined to look much different in 2022. Still, a large percentage of their roster is already in place, and they'll have plenty of work to do to improve last season's 12-5 record. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will evaluate those players already under contract, examining their past performance and future outlook. Today, we continue the series with running back Ezekiel Elliott.)
The Good: Elliott reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark (1,002) for the fourth time in six years with the Cowboys and showed toughness and leadership playing through a partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee over the final three-plus months of the season. He added 47 catches out of the backfield, fourth-most on the team, and as always, his pass protection skills were a significant aid to quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game, which finished first in the NFL despite a drop in production after the bye week.
The Bad: Though Elliott started all 17 games, the knee injury clearly affected him physically at times, particularly in the middle stretch of the season. He had only two runs of at least 20 yards after the Week 4 injury and was seen limping at times during games as the Cowboys attempted to manage his snap count. Fortunately, he did not need surgery after the season. But with backup Tony Pollard dealing with a foot injury after the bye, too, the run game never found the same dynamic production from the first month.
Best Of 2021: Elliott worked hard to get in the best shape of his career last offseason, dropping 10 pounds to his lowest playing weight since Ohio State, and it showed when the season started. In the Week 4 win over Carolina, the game in which he hurt his knee, he had 20 carries for a season-high 143 yards, including a season-long 47-yard rush.
Contract Consideration: Elliott is entering the fourth year of the $90 million extension he signed in 2019, and his $12.4 million base salary for 2022 is fully guaranteed.
What's Next: The Cowboys believe they've got a productive one-two punch with Elliott and Pollard when both are healthy and the offensive line is creating space up front (an area they'll look to improve this offseason). In Weeks 2-5, the Cowboys averaged 201.0 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry and looked unstoppable. After the bye week -- the final 12 games, including the wild-card loss to San Francisco -- the Cowboys averaged 100.8 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry, including just 77 yards on 21 carries against the 49ers. The goal is to replicate that early-season success and establish more balance on offense, which can only help Prescott.