The 2023 NFL Draft has come and gone, and little took place to stop the questions about a potential return of Ezekiel Elliott to Dallas
"Ship has not sailed," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters Saturday night when asked about a reunion, via the team website. "We haven't made a decision. We've obviously drafted a running back, a little different style than Zeke, but it doesn't change. …For us, as far as our interest in Zeke, nothing we did today changes that."
With the selection of Kansas State's Deuce Vaughn at the tail end of the sixth round, which also delivered one of Day 3's best moments when his father, the team's assistant director of college scouting, helped deliver the news, Dallas now has five running backs on the roster with Tony Pollard, Malik Davis, Ronald Jones and Rico Dowdle.
It would seem the Cowboys have their bases covered by way of committee behind Pollard, who is recovering from a broken fibula, but flashed brilliance as Elliott's star waned last year. Still, it's not as if Dallas swung big early on a ball-carrier to establish a definitive one-two punch the way it has had in recent years, and there will always be an emotional pull between Zeke and the Cowboys.
After seven seasons in which he catapulted himself to third in franchise history in rushing yards (8,262) and rushing scores (68), Elliott was released at the start of free agency with a post-June 1 designation. The move saved Dallas over $10 million, offsetting the cost of keeping Pollard on the $10.1 million franchise tag.
Since then, the first waves of free agency have come and gone, and with them the massive devaluation of running backs has continued. Chargers RB Austin Ekeler requested permission to seek a trade to a team more willing to pay him. David Montgomery, Miles Sanders and Jamaal Williams all signed multi-year contracts worth less than $6.4 million per year on average, and Damien Harris and Devin Singletary signed one-year deals totaling less than $4 million.
Elliott, so long Dallas' dynamic bowling ball of a back, has considerably more wear than all of them -- and the toll is showing. He averaged below 4.0 yards per carry for the first time in his career last season and had a career-low 17 receptions for just 92 yards. His losing a step, coupled with a down market, has kept him unattached. It also keeps a return at a team-friendly price more palatable as time marches on toward August and September.
It's entirely possible the Cowboys decide they have enough ammo behind Pollard to pass on adding Elliott back in the future. Davis was not without potential as an undrafted free agent last season, rushing 38 times for 161 yards and a score, and Ronald Jones will be hungry to show he still has it a year removed from being carved out of Kansas City's rotation. Plus, Vaughn enters the league known for his versatility and surprising durability even standing at 5-foot-5.
Just don't dismiss anything when it comes to Jerry Jones and his former All-Pro.
"That's what we'll be sitting here evaluating and look and see what his situation is [and] what our situation is," the 80-year-old Jones said. "But I haven't ruled out Zeke."