The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most recognizable franchises in all of the sports, but with little success since the ’90s, it’s time for Dallas to put up or shut up. With a talented roster headlined by players like Zack Martin, Dake Prescott, Amari Cooper, Demarcus Lawrence, and Ezekiel Elliott, this team should be much better than how they perform. This offseason, Dallas has some unanswered questions, and with big contract extensions like Dak Prescott’s looming in the near future, Dallas might need to make some tough decisions. Two players whose names come up are running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is the third highest-paid running back in the league, and Jaylon Smith, who is amongst the top 10 highest paid linebackers.
In 2016 the Dallas Cowboys invested a top-five draft pick into the running back position drafting Ezekiel Elliott number four out of Ohio State. Early on, Elliott was a major contributor on a high powered ground and pound offense. In his rookie season, Elliott finished second in Rookie of the Year voting just behind Cowboys quarterback Dake Prescott.
Over his first five years with the Cowboys, Elliott has rushed the ball 1,413 times for 6,384 yards and has accumulated 46 rushing touchdowns and 10 receiving touchdowns. Elliott has made a major contribution to the Cowboys offense but struggled a ton in 2020. Compared to 2019, Elliots carries were down, rushing yards were down, and touchdowns were down. Now Elliott cannot be fully to blame for this as quarterback Dak Prescott missed most of the season after a dislocated ankle playing in only five games.
Another reason Elliott’s production was down in 2020 is that the Cowboy’s offensive line was decimated by injuries. Starting tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, and All-Pro guard Zack Martin all missed significant time, if not the entire season. Without those monsters, upfront, it made it difficult for the Cowboys offense to make holes and led to Elliott battling defenders behind the line of scrimmage.
What Should Dallas Do?
The Dallas Cowboys should keep Elliott and see what he is capable of in 2021 behind a healthy offensive line and with Dak Prescott. In many of the games in 2020, the Cowboys fell behind, eliminating the running game and forcing the team to pass the ball. Elliott is an elite running back and will bounce back.
Like Elliott, Jaylon Smith also joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 after being drafted in the second round out of Notre Dame. However, Smith suffered a severe knee injury in his college football bowl game, putting his career much in doubt. Smith has defied great odds and has positioned himself as the Cowboy’s starting middle linebacker. In 2019 the Cowboys rewarded Smith with a five-year $64 million contract extension keeping him in Dallas through 2025.
Smith’s production on the field appears to be very good when looking at stats, but if you watch game film, it gets kind of ugly. Smith led all Cowboys defenders with 89 solo tackles and 154 total tackles. What brings Smith into this conversation are instances that happen too often where Smith doesn’t get lined up or is completely missing in action leading to a big play for the opposing offense.
What Should Dallas Do?
The Dallas Cowboys already have a roster filled with high-priced talent. Smith is an average NFL linebacker that is being paid like an elite one. This offseason, Dallas needs to sit down with Smith and discuss some sort of reduction in salary because right now, Smith is not playing up to his contract. It would be great for Smith to stay with the Cowboys and hopefully improve under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but for him to stay he needs to free up some cap space and take less money.
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