Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys finally bit the bullet and overpaid their star running back.
According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, Dallas’ brass and Ezekiel Elliott agreed to a six-year, $90 million extension with roughly half of the total guaranteed. Elliott is expected to return to practice Wednesday after spending much of the offseason in Cabo training with former NFL back Marshall Faulk. Elliott’s new $15 million average annual salary leads the running back position, per Over the Cap.
Among the 41 NFL running backs with at least 300 carries over the past three seasons (2016-18), Elliott ranks sixth in rushing grade (82.9), tied for 25th in forced missed tackles per attempt and tied for fifth in yards after contact per attempt (3.0). Most recently, Elliott earned a 75.5 rushing grade that ranked 26th among the 51 backs with 100 or more carries in 2018.
According to research performed by PFF data scientists Eric Eager and George Chahrouri, rushing production is far more dependent on scheme, box count, down & distance and the blocking ahead than the talent of the runner himself. Adding to the position’s replaceability, other research from Eager and Chahrouri has shown that how productive a running back is catching the football is not as stable as a receiver’s or tight end’s receiving production, making it that much more disadvantageous to allocate significant resource (e.g. cap space, draft capital) into talented pass-catching backs over talented receivers or tight ends.
Elliott, like all backs in the NFL, offers replaceable rushing production and volatile receiving production. Thus, allotting $90 million over six years to even the best running back in football, let alone Elliott, is quite the risk.
Related Article: Explaining Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott's 2018 PFF Grade