The Dallas Cowboys released running back Ezekiel Elliott on Wednesday, ending a seven-season run for a two-time rushing champion who never regained the form of his dominant early years.
Elliott will be designated a post-June 1 cut, according to a person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team didn’t reveal details of the decision. The move will save Dallas about $11 million under the salary cap this season.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said the decision was mutual to let the 27-year-old Elliott pursue another team in free agency and give the Cowboys more financial flexibility in building a roster.
“This is one of the toughest parts of operating a team,” said Jones, who issued similarly heartfelt statements after the salary cap-related releases of defensive end DeMarcus Ware and receiver Dez Bryant in the past decade.
“Moments like this come, and extremely difficult decisions and choices are made. For the franchise. For me personally. For players, too,” Jones said. “We will always have a special place and love for Zeke.”
While Elliott finished with 12 rushing touchdowns in a second consecutive playoff season for the Cowboys in 2022, his overall production never matched the value of a $90 million, six-year extension he signed to end a preseason-long holdout in 2019.
As the quick start to Elliott’s career fizzled, 2019 fourth-round draft pick Tony Pollard emerged as the best playmaker for quarterback Dak Prescott in the Dallas offense. The Cowboys have placed the $10.1 million franchise tag on Pollard for 2023.
Elliott has 8,262 career yards rushing, third on the Dallas list behind Pro Football Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s career leading rusher, and Tony Dorsett. Elliott also was third behind Smith and Dorsett with 68 career touchdowns rushing.
Elliott was an instant star as the fourth overall pick out of Ohio State in 2016, leading the NFL with 1,631 yards as a rookie and helping the Cowboys to the top seed in the NFC alongside fellow first-year sensation Prescott, who edged his teammate for 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Elliott’s second season was interrupted by a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations. Elliott fought the ban in federal court, but abandoned the two-month effort 10 games into the 2017 season.
Despite the suspension, Elliott still led the league in yards rushing per game, then added a second rushing title in 2018 when he and Prescott won their first playoff game together, a wild-card victory over Seattle.
Injuries robbed Elliott of the explosiveness that marked his first few seasons, although he rarely missed games over his final two years. He had career lows of 876 yards and a 3.8-yard average per carry last season.
His final play for Dallas left plenty to be desired.
With the Cowboys 76 yards from the end zone in the final seconds of a 19-12 divisional-round loss to San Francisco, they split offensive linemen wide and lined up Elliott at center. He was immediately knocked on his backside after the snap on a play that went nowhere.
The Cowboys will choose to remember many of the plays before such an ignominious ending.
“Zeke’s impact and influence is seared into the Cowboys franchise in a very special and indelible way,” Jones said. “He has been a consummate professional and leader that set a tone in our locker room, on the practice field and in the huddle. Zeke defined what a great teammate should be.”
NOTES: The Cowboys restructured the contracts of DE DeMarcus Lawrence and T Tyron Smith. Combined with recent restructures for Prescott and RG Zack Martin, the Cowboys have cleared nearly $50 million in cap space. Smith’s reworked deal ensures the return of the eight-time Pro Bowler when he could have been another player cut to clear cap space. … RT Terence Steele received a second-round tender, giving the team the option to match offers for the restricted free agent. Steele is recovering from an ACL tear late in the season. … S Donovan Wilson and LB Leighton Vander Esch, both returning free agents, signed their new contracts Tuesday.