FRISCO, Texas – I owe the Cowboys a debt of gratitude.
I'll be honest. Even for a team as crazy as this, when you write a column where you’re supposed to hit on a variety of topics, it can sometimes be challenging to find enough content.
That won’t be the case this week. There’s so much stuff happening at this facility, I can’t even keep track of it all. Most of that is contract-related, so I apologize in advance. I’m sure you’re tired of reading about it, and I’m tired of talking about it. We’ll throw some football in at the end for good measure.
Anyway, it’s column season once again. Let’s get into it.
1. Never a doubt, y’all. Never a doubt.
At the end of the day, there was just no chance Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t going to be here for the start of the regular season. There was too much at stake for everyone.
The Cowboys are trying to win a Super Bowl. Jason Garrett is trying to keep his job. Elliott is trying to maximize his earnings at the most short-lived position in the game. One way or another, he was always going to be here.
2. It’s pretty impressive that he actually got himself a deal, though.
If they had wanted to, the Cowboys probably could have played hardball. They could have leaned on Tony Pollard and Alfred Morris. The results might not have been as good, but they could have strung this thing out until Elliott showed up. On his previous salary, he would have missed roughly a quarter million dollars per week by holding out.
Regardless of how committed he was, I have my doubts Elliott would have continued to take those losses for more than a handful of games.
It feels telling that the Cowboys didn’t want to play that game – and I think there are a couple of reasons as to why.
Firstly, now’s not the time to rock the boat. The Cowboys have a roster that can contend in the NFC right now. The way this thing is structured, I think they have two or three years where they can take some serious swings at winning a sixth championship. That wasn’t going to happen if they played chicken with their best player.
Secondly, if you’re going to give a mega-contract to a running back, this is the situation to do it. Elliott literally just turned 24, and he’s never had issues with serious injury. He should be able to breeze through the early going of this deal without major issues.
Best-case scenario, he’s Adrian Peterson and he’s still cranking out 1,000-yard seasons at 33 years old. But even if that doesn’t happen, the Cowboys are slated to give out the vast majority of Elliott’s guarantees by next spring.
From the sounds of it, getting out of this deal in four years is a manageable scenario.
3. That all makes this feel like a win for both sides.
Zeke was slated to play this season on a $3.5 million salary earlier this week, and now he’s got $50 million in his bank account. The Cowboys got the engine of their offense back to work, and I don’t think the contract is going to cripple them in the future.
Sounds good to me.
4. You know what I didn’t see coming, like, at all? The other extension. The one we’ve already forgotten about, which the Cowboys gave to La’el Collins on Tuesday morning.
I had long ago resigned myself to the fact that my fellow LSU alum would soon sign an absurd contract with the Miami Dolphins, or the Buffalo Bills – or whatever other tackle-needy team might want him.
I once again forgot to factor in personal preference. There’s no doubt in my mind Collins could have angled for that splashy free agent deal, had he wanted to. But for a low-key guy from Baton Rouge, La., it was clearly very important for Collins to stay here with his original franchise – even if it meant shaving $4 or $5 million off his average annual salary.
Furthermore, Collins will only be 31 when this deal expires. It’s totally reasonable to think he could sign another one. So if he takes a little bit less for the ability to stay where he wants, with a good team and a good offensive line around him, so be it. It’s a nice little bit of forward thinking in the otherwise cut throat world of contract talks.
5. I’ve seen a lot of people asking what it means for the Cowboys’ long-term vision that they re-signed Collins.
The team just drafted Connor McGovern in the third round. With Connor Williams’ flexibility to play tackle, the road map was there – Collins walks in free agency, Williams kicks to tackle and McGovern takes over at left guard.
My thing is this: I don’t really care.
The way I see it, the Cowboys were gifted with an opportunity to keep a good right tackle for below the market value. They seized that opportunity. If the drawback of doing this deal is that they now have two different Connors who can play left guard, then that’s just the cost of doing business.
You can’t blame the Cowboys for thinking ahead by drafting McGovern. You also can’t blame them for jumping at an opportunity.
Maybe they had a “wrench” thrown into their plan. But having too many good offensive linemen isn’t exactly a bad problem to have.
6. Zeke’s new contract creates a really fun question for the first few weeks of the season:
What does Tony Pollard’s role look like now?
When he was the presumed starter, it was easy to imagine what Pollard was going to do against the Giants. Now that he’s behind one of the best backs in the league, it’s trickier.
True, Pollard should have a role to play while Zeke re-acclimates to playing football. But once that happens, it’s on Kellen Moore to find touches for him.
I’m glad the rookie doesn’t have to carry the Cowboys’ run game on his own, but there’s no denying the talent he showed during the preseason. He runs tougher than he got credit for during the draft process, and he clearly has the potential to be an explosive option as both a runner and a receiver.
Bottom line: there’s simply got to be a way to manufacture 10-15 touches a game for the young guy. Not only would it help preserve Zeke, but it would add another dynamic element to this offense.
He’s proven he deserves it.
7. I can’t summon the energy to write much more about Dak Prescott’s deal.
If you follow my work, you know how I feel about it. Prescott has earned the pay day that’s coming his way, and I firmly believe it’s only a matter of time until he gets it.
The four-year, $134 million contract that Jared Goff just signed cements – in my mind, at least – what it’s going to look like when it gets here. We’ve heard all the rumors about a $40 million salary, but that was never going to happen. Prescott’s career accomplishments fall in line nicely with what Goff has done. It doesn’t seem that difficult to agree on a deal that will pay him in that neighborhood.
Stephen Jones said Thursday that Prescott is a “huge priority,” but that sometimes the business aspect takes a while to sort out – as if we needed a reminder.
Mark me down as a believer that, one way or another, Prescott’s deal will come together, and it will fit nicely with the deals that happened with both Carson Wentz and Jared Goff.
8. I was on the record as believing that Zeke would be back in time for Week 1, but it still feels strange that he’s finally here.
The reason is because it kills off the last of the big, strange stories before the start of the season.
Yes, Dak and Amari Cooper remain unsigned, but those are the most drama-free contract negotiations I’ve ever been around.
Otherwise, this feels almost boring for the Dallas Cowboys. Zeke is back at practice, nobody is in trouble with the league and all of the team’s major injury concerns – DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyrone Crawford, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin – appear to be trending in the right direction.
It’s almost unsettling. This is a talented roster with Super Bowl aspirations, and there’s no major uncertainty hanging over it. As someone who breathlessly covered the drama surrounding the 2017 season, among other incidents, that almost feels too good to be true.
And it probably is. Something will crop up in the coming weeks, and obstacles will have to be hurdled throughout the long season.
But as we prepare to kick this thing off, I genuinely think this team has the potential to be the NFC’s best. There’s nothing -- other than actual football games – standing in the way of them meeting that potential.
That’s exciting and terrifying, all at the same time. I can’t wait to see where it leads.