There is no question Dallas Cowboys are intrigued about the prospect of adding Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott to an offense that features quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant.
He is owner Jerry Jones’ new pet cat.
And he is the apple of the eye of every Cowboys fan, evoking visions of the third installment of the famed Triplets.
There was the three Hall of Famers and Super Bowl champions in quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin and the 2014 version of Romo, Bryant and then-NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray.
Barring something unforeseen, such as giving up a ransom to trade up to the third spot with the San Diego Chargers to take Elliott before the Cowboys pick fourth overall, Elliott should be on the board when it’s the Cowboys’ turn to pick in the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.
A few questions beg to be answered before the Cowboys go all in for Zeke.
Do the Cowboys have the luxury of taking a running back, which is not a need, with more pressing and obvious holes on defense, particularly at cornerback and defensive end?
Can they do that with obvious answers to those questions possibly still in the board in Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa?
And considering the diminished value of the running back position, which the Cowboys bought into with their decision to let Murray walk in free agency two years ago, is it wise to take a running back with such a premium pick when they are often chewed up and spit out in four or five years and no longer considered a long-term investment?
And there’s also the prospect of picking up other capable and productive running backs later in the draft to go along with two capable veterans backs already on the roster in Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris.
Taking all that into account, the final question is whether Elliott is worth it?
Is that he that much better than the other backs in the draft?
Is he potentially that transcendent of a player?
Per a source, the Cowboys’ answer was a definitive “yes”.
There remains a question of whether the Cowboys will actually pull the trigger on Elliott, especially if a seemingly more impactful defensive player such as Ramsey is available.
Among the Cowboys, Elliott is a legitimate take at No. 4.
He is an every-down back who is a game-breaker as a runner, a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and an accomplished blocker in the passing game.
“Yeah, I think he’s worthy of being in the top-10 for sure,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “Where we ultimately end up with him is still a work in progress. He’s obviously a very quality-type player and seems like he’s pretty much universally looked at as a guy who deserves to be in that category.”
That Stephen Jones feels that way speaks volumes considering he has become the heavy in terms of the team’s personnel decisions. He was the one who toed the hard line with Murray and his contract demands, based largely on the diminished value of running backs and the belief that lots of runners could be successful behind a Cowboys offensive line that features three first-round picks and Pro Bowlers in tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin.
“I think it certainly comes into play,” Stephen Jones said of the diminished value of the running back. “I think at the end of the day that’s what you measure. You measure what kind of value you’re getting under the cap cause these top picks are a lot less than what they used to be in terms of what they counted toward your cap and you measure it as to what a top player might be making if you had to go out and get him in free agency.
“At the end of the day, obviously, you’ve seen that running back market come back rather than move forward. It certainly will come into play.”
Per Stephen Jones, the rookie cap, which has reduced the money given to all first round picks compared to a few years ago, makes it palatable to take a running back high.
And when you compare it to the type of money Murray got from the Philadelphia Eagles last year _ a $42 million deal, including $21 million guaranteed _ what Elliott would get as the fourth pick is a bargain.
Last year’s fourth pick, Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper, got a four-year, $22.7 million deal, including a $14.7 million signing bonus. His highest salary in the fourth year would be $3.5 million.
None of that is lost on Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who points at the difference between paying a top back with fresh legs compared to paying premium dollar to a back with four or fives years of wear and tear on him coming off a season with a career-high in carries such as Murray in 2014.
That the Cowboys could be getting the best of Elliott in the first four or five years of his career makes a difference too _ especially considering how special he potentially is and the immediate impact they believe he can bring.
“It’s a ton of difference to put it on a back that has no carries in the NFL than putting it on one that has five or six years and that’s just life,” Jerry Jones said. “There is another way to look at it. You look at it at what will ultimately be the biggest impact on your team. Just because we didn’t do Murray, just because we have running back by committee, just because we have veterans as we’ve said, doesn’t mean at all that we’re not in the running back business.”