When star running back Ezekiel Elliott signed a four-year, fully-guaranteed contract worth $24.9 million, including a $16.3 million signing bonus, after being drafted fourth overall by the Dallas Cowboys last year, it was supposed to be the beginning of a life of NFL riches.
Elliott has done his part on the field, leading the league in rushing as a rookie, to potentially stack more money.
But the domestic violence investigation and subsequent NFL suspension that have corresponded with his brief time in the league have been a financial drain to the tune of several million dollars.
On Tuesday night, Judge Katherine Failla of the Southern District of New York sided with the NFL and denied Elliott’s motion for a temporary restraining order. He is suspended again. He has 24 hours to file an emergency appeal.
For now, the Cowboys will be without Elliott starting with Sunday’s home game against Kansas City. He will not be eligible to return until the Dec. 17 game at the Oakland Raiders. In between, he will miss games against the Chiefs, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Redskins and New York Giants. The games against Philadelphia, Washington and Giants stand out because they are NFC East games.
Elliott’s legal fees, dating back to the initial accusation, through the investigation by the Columbus Ohio city attorney, continuing with the NFL’s year-long investigation and his battles through the federal court system, have continued to rise.
At the same time, he has lost out on potential endorsement deals that number in the double digits.
And that’s not including the automatic triggers on his contract that will force him to pay some of his signing bonus money back to the Cowboys, as well as lose guarantees in his deal, if the suspension stands.
All totaled, the zeros rise into the seven figures, according to sources..
Elliott, who has long maintained his innocence, acknowledges that the suspension fight is weighing on him.
“When you get accused of something of that magnitude, you kind of get labeled as an abuser,” Elliott said recently, “and that’s just not me. That’s not how I want to be seen or how I want to represent my family. It’s just important for me to fight.”
The cost of a good name and reputation is priceless.
But there is no question that the meter is running.
What it costs
From a financial standpoint, the NFL Players Association is picking up the cost of high-powered attorney Jeffrey Kessler and his team from Winston & Strawn, who are taking the lead on the fight with the NFL in federal court.
Kessler makes roughly $1,500 an hour and comes with senior and junior attorneys who get $1,000 and $500 an hour, respectively, according to a source.
And all three are part of every meeting and phone call, putting any correspondence at $3,000 an hour.
But Elliott’s own legal team that has been working the case since the initial accusation in July 2016, including noted St. Louis criminal defense attorney Scott Rosenblum and his agent/attorney Frank Salzano.
Rosenblum was heavily involved with the Columbus and NFL investigations, and has been more of a consultant since this has gone to civil court.
Salzano has been involved since the beginning.
Both bill in the ballpark of $800 an hour, according to a source, putting Elliott’s costs well into six figures and counting.
If he wins the preliminary injunction, the tally is far from over.
What he has already lost
Elliott has lost out 11 of 12 multi-year endorsement deals, including several national marketing deals totaling in the millions, because of the off-the-field baggage, according to a source.
It’s certainly what coach Jason Garrett told Elliott over the summer as relayed to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.
“I’ve had a number of talks with him,” Garrett said. “I’ve asked him, ‘What do you want to be?’ I’ve had him try to understand the potential paths he could go down, the opportunities he has, on and off the field.
“They’re off the charts. He’s an infectious, very likable, hard-working kid. My point to him is, ‘If you maximize your abilities, you might be able to make $200 million off the field, like [the NBA’s] LeBron [James]. Or you could make a million.’ I mean, say you’re AT&T, or you’re Pepsi. You’re looking for a spokesman for your product. What would you do right now? You’d probably say, if you’re one of those companies, ‘Oh, we’ll go with [Cowboys quarterback] Dak [Prescott]. Or we’ll go with Jordan Spieth.’ But that’s in his control.”
It’s out of Elliott’s control as of now, and the person taking full advantage is Prescott.
The Cowboys quarterback would have gotten a certain amount of deals anyway because of his success on the field, and what his clean-cut image represents off of it. But there is no question that Prescott’s bushel of endorsements, which include Dannon Yogurt, AT&T, Adidas, Pepsi, Tostitos, 7-Eleven, Beats By Dre, Panini, Campbell’s Chunky Soup, New Era caps, Keurig and Nicholas Air, are in direct correlation to Elliott being a persona non grata.
ESPN business writer Darren Rovell estimates that Elliott has lost roughly $500,000 in endorsement dollars this year alone.
Matt Fleming, the Director of Talent/Entertainment/Sports at the Marketing Arm, agreed with Rovell.
“It’s difficult to put a number and quantify the marketing dollars on what he has lost out on,” Fleming said. “I imagine low- to mid-six figures would have come his way. But look at what Dak Prescott has signed from last off-season to this season. Some of those deals would have gone to Zeke. Dak is the guy that doesn’t have the blemishes on his reputation.”
What he stands to lose
Not only is Elliott’s reputation and name on the line, but so is some real, hard cash.
There is no mystery to what Elliott will lose financially if the suspension stands.
With a $1.584 million base salary for 2017, the loss of six games alone this year would cost him $560,000.
If he is forced to serve it in 2018, it would be $960,000 as the prorated amount on his $2.718 million base salary.
He would have to pay back a portion of his signing bonus money of $16.35 million. That is part of the collective bargaining agreement that comes along with all drug or personal conduct suspensions.
The final total on that would be $1.4 million.
That number would be deducted from future earnings rather than Elliott writing a check back to the team, according to a source.
In addition, salaries for 2018 and 2019 (totaling $3.853 million) would no longer be guaranteed against a career-ending injury.
Cowboys at Redskins
3:25 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4