L.T. TO THE COW­BOYS: PAY ZEKE EL­LIOTT

Hall of Fame run­ning back says team should pay its top of­fen­sive player

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY DREW DAV­I­SON FORT WORTH STAR-TELE­GRAM

The Hall of Fame run­ning back once was a big critic of the Dal­las star, but now he feels El­liott has ma­tured and should be re­warded for what he has done for the Cow­boys.

LaDainian Tom­lin­son didn’t hes­i­tate when asked if the Dal­las Cow­boys should give Ezekiel El­liott a con­tract ex­ten­sion this off­sea­son.

“Here’s the thing: Zeke has earned a new con­tract,” said Tom­lin­son, the Hall of Fame run­ning back who is now an an­a­lyst on the NFL Net­work.

“Peo­ple talk about pro­jec­tions and how many more years can he (be pro­duc­tive). It’s not about that. It’s about what the guy has earned. Zeke has led that team to two di­vi­sion ti­tles in the last three years. He’s led the Na­tional Foot­ball League in rush­ing two years al­ready in his short career.

“To be quite hon­est with you, he’s done it the right way. He hasn’t been in trou­ble other than that one time. So I think he de­serves a new con­tract and he de­serves to be paid as one of the top play­ers in the Na­tional Foot­ball League.”

Tom­lin­son has been im­pressed by watch­ing El­liott’s growth from afar. It was Tom­lin­son who ranked among the most vo­cal crit­ics of El­liott for “quit­ting” on the Cow­boys dur­ing an early sea­son 2017 game at Den­ver.

El­liott didn’t make much of an ef­fort to tackle Bron­cos de­fend­ers after they in­ter­cepted passes by Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott.

But El­liott has grown from that in­ci­dent, which hap­pened in the mid­dle of his le­gal fight with the NFL over a sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the league’s per­sonal-con­duct pol­icy, and be­came more of a leader on the Cow­boys last sea­son.

“We all learn from sit­u­a­tions,” Tom­lin­son said. “Know­ing how it is in the locker room, the coaches with Ja­son (Garrett) and those guys, I guar­an­tee you his run­ning backs coach (Gary Brown), they had that con­ver­sa­tion that you’ve got to con­tinue to play even when things are not go­ing right be­cause those guys are look­ing at you.

“When you show a play like that on film where you just quit and don’t pur­sue the play, those young guys are look­ing at that and they start to think, ‘If Zeke can do it, one of the lead­ers of the team, if he can do it, then I can do it.’ Those are learn­ing sit­u­a­tions and he has learned from it. He was ex­tra­or­di­nary this year. He was a leader in that locker room.”

El­liott has proven his worth since the Cow­boys drafted him with the fourth pick in 2016. He was the league’s rush­ing cham­pion his rookie sea­son with 1,631 yards rush­ing and 15 touch­downs.

El­liott served a six-game sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s per­sonal-con­duct pol­icy in 2017, but still ranked as the league leader in rush­ing yards per game (98.3 yards) in the 10 games he played.

And last sea­son El­liott re­claimed his rush­ing champ ti­tle with 1,434 yards rush­ing and six TDs. He topped the 2,000-yard mark in all-pur­pose yards with 2,001 (1,434 rush­ing and 567 re­ceiv­ing). His 381 touches (304 car­ries, 77 re­cep­tions) were a league­high too.

The Cow­boys won the NFC East in the two sea­sons (2016 and 2018) he led the league in rush­ing, and El­liott has rushed for more than 100 yards in two of three career play­off games.

Tom­lin­son is a be­liever that teams need a ground game for post­sea­son suc­cess. The two Su­per Bowl teams from last sea­son — New Eng­land and the Los An­ge­les Rams — each had top-five rush­ing at­tacks.

That’s an­other rea­son Tom­lin­son feels the Cow­boys should pay El­liott. “You have to be able to run the foot­ball late in the sea­son,” Tom­lin­son said.

The ques­tion is the price tag for El­liott. The Cow­boys still have him un­der con­tract for two more years, but El­liott could threaten to hold out if he doesn’t get a new deal.

The Rams set the stage last sum­mer with a fouryear, $60 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion for run­ning back Todd Gur­ley after his third sea­son. The deal in­cluded a $20 mil­lion sign­ing bonus and $45 mil­lion in guar­an­teed money.

El­liott is due $3.58 mil­lion in 2019, and the Cow­boys will cer­tainly ex­er­cise the fifth-year op­tion in his con­tract, guar­an­tee­ing him more than $10 mil­lion in 2020.

But it’s a law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns for El­liott after that be­cause of his high us­age in the Cow­boys of­fense. He has 1,003 touches since 2016, in­clud­ing 304 rushes and a career-high 77 catches in 2018.

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