The Cowboys have the upper hand in the Ezekiel Elliott holdout situation, for now

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Dallas Cowboys v Arizona CardinalsPhoto by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz weighs in on where things stand now that Elliott is threatening to miss games during the regular season.

I’ll always root for players to get paid. Of course I would. I’m a former player who knows the struggle to get that “second contract” and set up your family for the future. Plus, isn’t it an obligation of former players turned media members to be overly pro-player? It sure seems like it.

However, as usual, I’m different. I like to look at things from 1,000 feet and get all the details before I give my opinion — especially on player contract situations, as you might have noticed when I wrote about the Steelers’ offensive line and Le’Veon Bell from early last season. I owe it to myself to look at the entire picture, which brings me to the Ezekiel Elliott holdout.

Elliott is entering his fourth season with the Dallas Cowboys after being drafted fourth overall in 2016. He’s a fantastic running back. There’s NO denying that, nor will I try to do. I believe Zeke does more for his offense than any other running back in the NFL.

He is currently holding out in an attempt to get a new contract. Why now? Well, drafted rookies are allowed to renegotiate after three seasons and with the nature of the running back position, these dudes want to get paid ASAP, as we’re also seeing with Melvin Gordon.

I totally understand this mindset. Unfortunately, Zeke hardly has any leverage in this holdout.

Why Elliott threatening to miss games is almost an empty threat

Elliott is under contract for two more seasons, including his fifth-year option, which the Cowboys have exercised. Then, as we know with Bell, Elliott could be franchised for a couple of seasons before hitting free agency.

He’s in a real predicament if the Cowboys decide to make it tough on him.

This is an issue with the rookie wage scale and the franchise tag. Both of these were put into place thinking it would help out veteran players, and I’d argue neither has done that. The rookie wage scale didn’t drive up contracts for veterans, especially those in the middle class. The franchise tag has hurt player movement and is used against players in contract negotiations.

So when I read about Elliott and/or his representation saying he’s not going to play or even report until he gets a new deal, I know it’s the only leverage play they have. But it’s close to an empty threat. If he sits out this season, or doesn’t return by a certain date, his contract just rolls over.

Unlike Bell, who was under a one-year franchise tag, Zeke HAS to get his accrued seasons to get to free agency. When you add in all the bonus forfeiture language and fines he’s possibly dealing with, staying away only hurts him in the end — except in one situation.

There’s one (unlikely) scenario that could help Elliott’s case

Remember what happened when Emmitt Smith held out in 1993? The Cowboys lost the first two games of the season, the offense looked pathetic, and then Jerry Jones paid Smith what he wanted. He returned to the team and Dallas went 12-2 the rest of the way, eventually winning the Super Bowl that season.

I’m not sure the 2019 Cowboys will start the same as the 1993 team. This year, they open with the Giants, Washington, and Dolphins, all games they will be favorited in by more than a field goal. Even without Zeke in the backfield, the Cowboys should win these games.

We saw last season that Dak Prescott and the offense looked different with Amari Cooper in the lineup. Granted, Elliott was playing and defenses could have been geared to stop him, but nonetheless, Prescott’s play improved with Cooper, as evidenced by his third-down success rate. According to Warren Sharp, it rose by 18 percent when Cooper joined the team.

This season, the offense adds a healthy Travis Frederick, Randall Cobb, Jason Witten, and hopefully more aggressive playcalling from first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. The Cowboys should start 3-0. And that wouldn’t be good news for Elliott. His leverage would be gone.

It’s still a good bet that a deal gets done before the season starts

Still, even with Zeke having less-than-stellar leverage, the Cowboys have been vocal about wanting to sign him to a new deal, along with Prescott and Cooper. However, they’ve stated they won’t reset the market for any player and they’ve offered all three contracts that will make them top-five paid players at their position.

I understand the Cowboys’ plan. They want to lock down all three but don’t want to pay each a salary at the very top of the market. In the past, it’s been fun to mock the Cowboys for their salary cap woes, but they are no longer that team. They’ve drafted well, re-signed their own, and have kept the cap under control.

So, I get where both sides are coming from here. Zeke wants his money, and the Cowboys want to pay him — but only for a price. While sitting out games most likely hurts Elliott the most, it’s the only leverage he’s got at this point, no matter how slight it may be.

In the end, though, I think they come to an agreement before the end of camp and everyone is happy.

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