Todd SagittariusESPN staff writerRead for 4 minutes
FRISCO, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott, making the running back a free agent, the team announced Wednesday.
Elliott would count $16.7 million against the salary cap with a non-guaranteed base salary of $10.9 million. Elliott will be cut after June 1, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, meaning the club will save nearly $11 million by the 2023 cap, but will count just over $6 million by the 2024 cap. Cowboys don’t get the cap credit until June 1.
At the recent NFL scouting combination, team owner and general manager Jerry Jones remained open to the possibility of retaining Elliott and Tony Pollard, who was awarded the $10.091 million franchise title, but that was always unlikely. Elliott would have had to take a significant pay cut, and it’s not clear the Cowboys even made such an offer. In two of their high-profile releases in the past, they have not offered a pay cut to DeMarcus Ware or Dez Bryant.
“Zeke’s impact and influence has burned into the Cowboys franchise in a very special and indelible way,” Jones said in a statement. “He has been a consummate professional and leader who set the tone in our dressing room, on the training ground and in the group. Zeke defined what a great teammate should be, and anyone who has ever played a team sport would be happy to have a teammate like Zeke and will be much better off.”
Also on Wednesday, the Cowboys restructured DE DeMarcus Lawrence’s contract, freeing up $8.89 million in room, sources told ESPN. He’s the fourth player they’ve restructured in the past two weeks, following Dak Prescott, Zack Martin and Michael Gallup, freeing up nearly $45 million in capspace.
In 2019, Elliott signed a six-year extension worth $90 million, including $50 million in guaranteed money, but his numbers have declined over the past three seasons, reaching 1,000 yards only once (with 1,002) — in 2021, when the competition expanded to a 17-game schedule.
Injuries have slowed Elliott for the past two years. He played through a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in 2021 without missing a game. He missed just two games in 2022 due to a hyperextended right knee, but wore a brace for most of the season.
While Elliott continued as a starter, the Cowboys relied more on Pollard last season. Pollard ran for 1,007 yards, scored 12 touchdowns, and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time. The Cowboys have until July 15 to work out a multi-year deal with him or he has to play the year on the tag.
Elliott had a career-low 876 rushing yards in 2022, but he scored 12 touchdowns and remained a top close range back and pass protector. But in the final four games of the regular season, he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and had only 17 runs of 10 yards or more on the season.
The Cowboys selected Elliott with the number 4 pick in 2016 with the idea that he would extend Tony Romo’s career with one of the best offensive lines in football. They never played a regular season game together, with Romo suffering a back injury in the preseason, but Elliott helped fellow rookie Dak Prescott lead the Cowboys to a 13–3 record. Elliott ran for a league-best 1,631 yards in 2016, third most by a rookie in NFL history, and had seven 100-yard games.
In 2017, he served a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, but in 2018, he again led the league with 1,434 yards. In 2019, he finished fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,357 yards.
He had 26 100-yard rushing games in his first four seasons, but only three in the next three seasons, including none in 2022. Last season, he joined Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett as the only backs in team history those 10,000 all-purpose yards.
Elliott will turn 28 in July. He finished his career with the Cowboys with 1,881 carries for 8,262 yards and 68 rushing touchdowns. He caught 305 passes for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 80 career touchdowns are the third most in team history behind Smith (164) and Dorsett (86).