The Dallas Cowboys just need to get Ezekiel Elliott back in the building, and everything will be perfect, right? Well, not necessarily. When a running back holds out for a new contract, there is a concern that something could limit them upon their return to the field, whether they have a new contract in tow or not. History has shown that missing the crucial work during training camp can have negative consequences, which is exactly what Kyle Brandt of NFL Network's Good Morning Football showed on Monday morning.
"Even if they do get it done I don't think Zeke is gonna be a major factor in Cowboys vs Giants."@KyleBrandt breaks down why the @dallascowboys RB situation with @EzekielElliott is still the most intriguing. pic.twitter.com/pFIIcaPmii— GMFB (@gmfb) September 2, 2019
The co-host of GMFB set out to predict how much Elliott will play in the season-opening game against the New York Giants, provided he is back with the team and active. To achieve this feat, Brandt used the case study of former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, the league's all-time leading rusher. Like Elliott, Smith held out for a new contract in 1993, but he missed the first two games of the season. Upon his return, Smith registered a mere eight carries.
As Brandt explained, he doesn't envision a scenario in which Elliott shows up to The Star and immediately takes on 23+ carries against the Giants. He doesn't have the familiarity with Kellen Moore's offense, and it's not entirely clear what shape he is in. It is possible that Elliott could impress during his return to action, but the co-host of GMFB only sees him being used sparingly early.
To further Brandt's point about the danger of holdouts, it's prudent to examine former Jacksonville Jaguar running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Back in 2012, the dynamic star of Duval County held out for 38 days in hopes of signing a new contract.
Coming off a 2011 season in which he led the entire NFL with 1,606 rushing yards, MJD was only scheduled to make $4.45 million and $4.95 million over the final two years of his five-year, $31 million contract. This placed him behind fellow running backs in Adrian Peterson (Vikings), Chris Johnson (Titans), Arian Foster (Texans), Steven Jackson (Rams), LeSean McCoy (Eagles), Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks) and DeAngelo Williams (Panthers).
MJD ultimately reported to camp a week before the regular season began without a new contract in hand. He was reportedly fined $1.2 million for missing all of the offseason activities and training camp and was relegated to a backup role during the season-opening game against Minnesota. At least he was back in the building with his teammates.
Unfortunately for Jones-Drew, the season started slowly as he only rushed for 414 yards and one touchdown before suffering a left-foot injury in October. The Jaguars said that this issue was not season-ending at the time, but he finished the year on Injured Reserve and underwent surgery in late December.
With both Smith and Jones-Drew serving as case studies, there is a concern that Elliott could return to the Cowboys and either suffer an injury or simply be used as a backup during the early portions of the season. Granted, he could also burst onto the scene and rush for 200 yards in his first game back in action.
At this point, the future is impossible to predict, but every outcome must be anticipated in the case surrounding Elliott's holdout.