Running backs are being devalued in football these days, particularly first-round draft picks. Teams essentially run them into the ground and have the flexibility to avoid a major payday with a fifth-year option and up to two franchise tags.
So a first-round pick may not hit the open market until age 29, which is well past their prime years.
“That’s proven by the way that they’re doing business with the running back. It is devalued and that’s what concerned Todd Gurley. It’s what concerned Le’Veon Bell. It’s what concerned Ezekiel Elliott. So I get the holdout.”
Johnston made the comments as he attended an XFL event to unveil the Dallas team name and logo on Wednesday afternoon.
Johnston was the Cowboys’ fullback when Emmitt Smith held out in 1993. Elliott and Smith face different circumstances playing in different eras.
But a holdout is a holdout and Elliott is doing what he can to force the Cowboys hand. The latest has been a verbal spat between Elliott’s camp and owner Jerry Jones over a “Zeke Who?” jest Jones mad following last week’s preseason game in Hawaii.
In the end, Johnston is like everyone else watching from the outside to see what ultimately unfolds between the two sides.
“It’s such a tough decision,” Johnston said. “There’s so many things that go into it. I’m an ‘honor your contract’ guy, but I absolutely understand what Ezekiel is doing. He’s seeing what’s happening in the NFL. The first-round draft pick as a running back never really gets that second contract.
“These guys are all trying to hit that big one and they’re not hitting it. They’re getting the fifth-year picked up and the franchise tag and possibly another franchise tag. Now you’re 29 and you’re on the downside and a lot of teams would walk away from you at that point. I understand what Ezekiel is doing, what his team is doing -- they’re trying to send a message.
“But I also understand what Stephen and Jerry [Jones] are doing as an organization. They have said we want all three of you guys here [Elliott, quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper]. They’re drawing a hard line in trying to be as fair as they possibly can.”