I'm shooting for," Ellis says, "but they say it normally takes a full year," and he is well aware the Sept. 9 opener against the Giants is a good two months out from the one-year anniversary of having the tendon that attaches the calf muscle to the heel at the back of the ankle sewn together again.
Soooo, you watch the draft; how'd you find out they selected another college defensive end projected to play linebacker?
"Fergie called to tell me," Ellis said of teammate Jason Ferguson letting him know this Spencer was the team's first-round pick. He would smile, one of those here we go again smiles.
Regardless of what you may have read or heard, Ellis wasn't mad as much as he seemed almost defeated that here he is, trying his best to get back from the torn Achilles' while the club seems to be, in his eyes, paving the way for his exit from the team.
He said he understood, and does understand the business of the NFL. But it's just that, well, it goes back to last year. Ellis realizes he isn't getting any younger - turns 32 on Aug. 14 - but that he still has three relatively cap-friendly years left on the seven-year extension he signed in 2003 that paid him, by today's standards, a paltry $4.2 million signing bonus. Here's a guy who has performed at a pretty high level, been a great team guy, and does not begrudge his signing bonus four years ago, but how do you think he feels seeing some Leonard Davis pocketing a $16 million one today?
Worse, this would be not time for Ellis to land in free agency if there is no room at the inn here, although the Cowboys continue to insist there is a role for Ellis despite having now drafted four of these outside linebacker types in the past three years. What's he going to get coming off Achilles surgery about to turn 32?
So yes, he worries.
"It's just common sense," he says.
He saw Carpenter play better at the end of his rookie season, and realizes with that type of investment the club will want him to do something. He realizes the Cowboys didn't draft Spencer to become a hood ornament out here, and that Kevin Burnett is entering that crucial third year when they just have to find out something about him.
So when Ellis connects the dots, he just doesn't see much room for himself in this crowded field.
Now he says he's been told that's just not the case, and who knows, maybe it won't be. Seems the Cowboys are most interested in using Spencer with his hand on the ground as a pass-rushing defensive end on the nickel. If so, that could leave Ellis and Carpenter battling for a starting job at left outside linebacker.
But then what happens to Ellis on the nickel since rushing from the outside on the four-man line had been one of Ellis' chores, and he was pretty good at it? In fact, so good, we saw how the Cowboys would never compensate last year for his second-half absence, their pocket pressure all but expiring if not for Ware.
"They told me I might go inside then," Ellis said.
He means moving to a pass-rushing defensive tackle spot when they go to a four-man line on the nickel defense, which seems to be played more and more these days since offenses tend to use more multiple-receiver sets. Now it's not as if this inside pass-rush stuff would be foreign to Ellis. He's been there before on a limited basis, and is well aware of how tough it is in there to get to the quarterback. But then again, maybe not if Ware continues coming on and Spencer is what they think he is and there is more blitzing going on from behind.
Man, that would be something if you could get Ware, Ellis, Spencer and possibly Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears or Chris Canty on the field at the same time, with maybe even Akin Ayodele and Carpenter. That's a whole lot of versatile guys.
So to me, Ellis is too valuable and versatile a resource to give up on, and for a $2.5 million base, far too reasonably priced on top of that. To me, if he's able to successfully rehab his Achilles', I've got a spot on my team for him. And as I was told before the draft, the Cowboys happening to select an outside linebacker type - which they did - would be totally independent of any concerns over Ellis successfully rehabbing his Achilles'.
Ellis was glad to at