The Dallas Cowboys Do Not Need Ezekiel Elliott

The Dallas Cowboys overcame a COVID-19 outbreak to get back on track in their bid to secure the NFC East title and push for the conference’s top seed with a win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 13. Though quarterback Dak Prescott did not produce a vintage performance, any doubts around the Cowboys stemming from thattriumph should concern the running game and specifically a highly paid star who is not living up to his contract or reputation.

In fairness to Ezekiel Elliott, the six-year, $90 million contract he signed in 2019 was always going to be difficult for him to vindicate. However, as his production has declined during the 2021 season, it is a deal that is looking more and more egregious.

Elliott was a passenger in the Cowboys’ 27-17 win over the Saints, carrying the ball 13 times for just 45 yards, continuing a trend that has set in for the former first-round pick over his last seven games.

In that span, Elliott’s highest rushing total in a game is 69 yards in the Week 7 win over the New England Patriots. For the season, Elliott is averaging career-lows in rushing yards per game (63.3) and attempts per game and attempts per game (14.4).

Put simply, Elliott’s usage and production as a runner are in decline, and his lack of influence is having no negative impact on the Cowboys’ offense.

Prescott was inefficient, averaging minus 0.23 Expected Points Added per play against New Orleans, according to, yet the Cowboys still managed to score 20 points on offense in a game where Elliott had an EPA play on runs of negative 0.35.

Elliott did at least contribute to the scoring a week earlier in the loss to the Las Vegas Raiders with a touchdown plunge. Otherwise, though, it was a similar story, with the Cowboys excelling at moving the ball and scoring 27 points on offense even though he could only offer 25 yards on nine carries.

An efficient run game always helps an offense but, such is Dallas’ strength in other areas, the Cowboys don’t require Elliott to perform well on the ground to deliver offensively, and there is increasing evidence they could turn to another member of the backfield to provide superior rushing production.

Elliott ranks 10th among running backs in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) but is still behind teammate Tony Pollard, who is eighth in DYAR and fifth in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), in which Elliott is 14th.

Pollard also outshone him against New Orleans, displaying burst and explosiveness that has rarely been a feature of Elliott’s game in 2021 on his 58-yard touchdown dash in the third quarter.

That predictably led to renewed claims that the Cowboys’ running game would be better served with Pollard as the undisputed lead back and, between his success, an excellent comeback season from Prescott and the passing game weapons Dallas has at its disposal, it is tough to view Elliott as a necessary part of the offense.

But Elliott is unlikely to be leaving the Cowboys any time soon, with an onerous contract that carries a dead cap hit of over $30 million in 2022, per Spotrac, all but ensuring he will be a Cowboy next year.

Elliott undoubtedly has the ability to play a more significant role in the offense going forward but, at his current level of performance, he stands as an unproductive luxury who the Cowboys would be wise to move on from in a more financially viable scenario.