- Ezekiel Elliott agreed to a six-year, $US90 million extension on Wednesday morning to become the highest-paid running back in NFL history.
- Elliott’s deal comes after the Cowboys superstar chose to hold out for a new contract through training camp, despite having two years left on his rookie deal.
- The decision echoes the strategy of “pre-agency” popular in the NBA, where players leverage their position earlier in their current contracts in order to land a new one.
- While Cowboys owner Jerry Jones criticised the move while Elliott was holding out, both sides eventually came to an agreement, with Elliott securing his future and Dallas securing his talents through 2026.
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Ezekiel Elliott agreed to the richest running back contract in NFL history on Wednesday morning, signing a six-year extension with the Dallas Cowboys worth $US90 million, including $US50 million in guarantees.
The deal is an impressive feat for Elliott at a time when the value of elite running backs is an ever-present question in the league.
Between the dangers of a severe injury that come with the repeated hits running backs take and the NFL’s evolution into a significantly pass-first league, convincing a team to commit to their backfield with a massive contract is no easy feat.
To his credit, Elliott has more than proven in his three years in the NFL that if anyone is worth such a contract, it’s him. In three seasons in the league, Elliott has led the NFL in rushing in the two of his three seasons in which he’s played at least 15 games. He averages more than 100 yards rushing per game over his career, and just shy of one touchdown per game. Elliott is without a doubt the most dangerous weapon the Dallas offence can throw at opposing defences, and his deal will now keep his talents with the Cowboys through 2026.
But it wasn’t just Elliott’s elite skill that earned him his record-setting deal – the Cowboys star running back also adopted a strategy of “pre-agency” popular with NBA players in order to secure himself his payday a year early.
“Pre-agency” is popular tactic in the era of player empowerment, with superstars leveraging their power earlier within their contracts.
In the NBA, as superstar players have become more and more comfortable exerting their power in order to navigate their way from one team to another, some have opted to make their desires for a change public earlier within their current deals.
While these negotiations usually didn’t happen until the final year of a player’s deal, in the new age of “pre-agency,” players such as Anthony Davis make their wishes known two years from when they’d actually hit the market.
The decision to make demands earlier in the process gives players a bit more leverage, and can help ensure that their next big extension comes sooner rather than later.
While Elliott was never a real threat to demand a trade or hit the free agency market, he began his holdout for a new contract this offseason with two years left on his rookie deal with the Cowboys, rather than the final year of his deal, or a year on the franchise tag as many other NFL holdouts.
Elliott was not without his critics for his early holdout, but ultimately, the deal worked out for both himself and the Cowboys.
Elliott was met by some detractors for his tactics. “If we do a new contract, what’s to assure us that this time next year or three months later, we won’t be talking about another contract?” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, per Jon Machota of The Athletic, on 105.3 The Fan. “If we’re not gonna honour contracts?”
This is an argument made against players across sports who choose to exercise their power during “pre-agency,” but it’s not a good one, especially in football, where contracts are not guaranteed.
But regardless on your feelings on his tactics, Elliott succeeded in his goal, and chances are the Cowboys are pretty pleased with the result as well. Elliott is now the highest-paid running back in the NFL, and the Cowboys have the rights to his talents secured for the foreseeable future.
Had Elliott elected to play another year on his rookie contract this season, there’s a chance he could have suffered an injury or simply not reached the sky-high marks he’s already set for himself in previous years. Rather than take that risk, he used pre-agency to take advantage of his position when his leverage was highest, and it paid off in a big way.
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