Dallas Cowboys

Zeke talks funding Jaylon McKenzie’s funeral, contract concerns, sharing workload

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott talked to the media Wednesday for the first time since the end of the 2018 season at the team’s Reliant Home Run Derby at Dr. Pepper Ballpark.

First and foremost, Elliott said he is not concerned about the timing of a contract extension with the Cowboys.

The two-time rushing champ is signed for two more seasons after the Cowboys picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.

Elliott would like to get a contract extension before his fourth season just as Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley did, according to sources.

But when asked about getting a new deal before the start of the 2019 season, Elliott said: “I’m not concerned.”

The Cowboys have said they plan to give Elliott a Gurley-like extension (4 years, $57.5 million). However, they have prioritized new deals for quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper before the running back who has been the foundation of any success they have had on offense since he was picked fourth overall in 2016.

Vice president Stephen Jones said he is not oblivious to Elliott’s desires of a new deal.

“I understand completely. Oh gosh, do I?” Jones said last week. “I just think you’ve got to work through these things. I can’t imagine Zeke doesn’t know what we think about him…I mean Zeke, as we all know, he’s such an important player to this organization. He’s a guy that we want to have here long term. The only reason you say, ‘Well, maybe he’s not at the front’ is because he’s got this year then he’s got another year at his tender. These things can take time.’‘

Elliott has done his part by showing up and participating in the off-season program. He has no plans on changing now.

“Just go out there and play football. Do what I’ve been doing,” Elliott said when asked how he will deal with the outside noise over his contract.

Despite the Cowboys drafting two running backs in Tony Pollard and Mike Weber as part of a plan to ease Elliott’s workload, he said he wants to continue doing what he has been doing in terms of touches as a runner and receiver.

Elliott led the league with 1,434 yards on 304 carries. He also had a career-high 77 receptions. His carries and 381 touches as a runner and receiver led the league last season.

Running backs coach Gary Brown made it clear last week that the Cowboys want to manage Elliott’s touches to keep him fresher for late in the season. It could also extend his career.

“I think it’s a situation where we understand what Zeke is to our football team, to our organization, to our success,” Brown said. “I think it’s important for us as an organization to maximize his ability to go out and help us win championships, and the way we do that is to take a little bit off of him. You know, 300 carries last season. It must be over 1,000 touches so far. So we’ve got to make sure we take care of that guy.”

Elliott has 1,003 touches in his three seasons.

Brown said he hasn’t seen Elliott wear down but “it’s just a matter of — it’s just physics. Year after year with that type of workload, eventually anyone’s going to slow down. We’re trying to pre-empt that and take care of him now.”

Elliott’s short response to the Cowboys’ plan on Wednesday spoke volumes.

“I haven’t worn down yet,” Elliott said.

He also addressed his charitable decision to help pay for the funeral of youth football star Jaylon McKenzie, who was killed by a stray bullet while leaving a party near Elliott’s hometown of St. Louis, Mo.

McKenzie, 14, lived in Belleville, Ill. and went to school in East St. Louis. He had dreams of playing in the NFL. He was recently featured in Sports Illustrated as one of six young athletes who would rule the future of sports and already had scholarship offers from Missouri and Illinois.

Elliott grew up in St. Louis and went to John Burroughs High School before playing in college at Ohio State. He was moved by the senseless death of the football phenom from his hometown area.

“Him being a guy from the St. Louis area and me growing up there, I can only imagine what his family is going through and he had such a bright future,” Elliott said. “When I first read the story the first thing I did was call my Little League football coach and ask him if he knew the family and if he could reach out to them for me. I am just glad I can help the family in any way I can.”

Elliott’s mother, Dawn, is expected to represent the family at the funeral, set for Saturday in East St. Louis.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.