Mac Engel

Dallas Cowboys legend on Zeke: ‘I do not blame him at all for wanting to hold out’

Dallas Cowboys Darren Woodson In Ring Of Honor

Former Dallas Cowboy safety Darren Woodson was named as the newest member of the team's Ring of Honor. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley
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Former Dallas Cowboy safety Darren Woodson was named as the newest member of the team's Ring of Honor. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley

Darren Woodson was there the last time a Dallas Cowboys running back held out, experienced the absence of Emmitt Smith, and sees that Ezekiel Elliott has real leverage.

The Cowboys’ running back and The Man in their offense reportedly did not make the trip with his teammates to Southern California to start training camp. Now, he could show up at any point on his own, but not flying with his team is an obvious sign he is ready to hold out.

“I do not blame him at all for wanting to hold out,” said Woodson on Thursday, who is a member of the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. “He should maximize everything he has.”

The last time the Dallas Cowboys had a running back in a big fight over a contract was 1993. The Cowboys were coming off a Super Bowl year, Smith was either the best or second best running back in the NFL. He wanted more money.

The fourth-year running back held out, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones let his running back sit and miss check after check.

And then the Cowboys lost in Week 1, 35-16, against the Washington Redskins.

Then the Cowboys lost 13-10 at home to the Buffalo Bills.

“We all came into the locker room, and (owner) Jerry Jones and (coach) Jimmy Johnson were standing there,” Woodson said. “Then (defensive end) Charles Haley comes in, and he’s livid. He takes his helmet and he throws it through the wall.

“Then he screams, ‘You need to sign that (expletive deleted)!’ He said it right in Jerry’s face.”

Then Jerry changed his mind. His team was 0-2, and there was an obvious link between Smith’s absence and the Cowboys’ record. Shortly after losing to the Bills, Emmitt Smith agreed to a new contract.

“Somehow, some way,” Woodson said, “Emmitt got signed.”

Smith signed a four-year deal worth $36 million, which made him the highest paid running back in the NFL, ahead of Buffalo’s Thurman Thomas.

The Dallas Cowboys lost two more games all season, and won the Super Bowl.

“Now, you knew when he held out you were going to be different. Did I think we’d miss a beat? No. Of course you miss one player, but there are 52 other guys,” Woodson said. “There was something about Emmitt in that offense. He was the closer. He was the guy you gave the ball to and everyone had the confidence he would fall forward, or somehow, move the chains.”

The next part is what feels so similar between Zeke and Smith, not necessarily as players but their situations to the respective Cowboys teams.

“Without Emmitt in that offense, we didn’t have the identity. It’s the same way with Zeke,” Woodson said. “It’s all built around Zeke, and that offensive line and No. 21 being physical.

“Zeke is a monster in getting that one yard, and it’s the defense that gets confidence from that. It gives you a sense of confidence to see, as a teammate, a guy do that. I saw Emmitt do that. It’s the same thing with the Cowboys now; they are at their best with that offensive line, and Zeke gashing you.”

Zeke Elliott is no Emmitt Smith, but there are similarities to their respective holdouts.

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