Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said it was the "best decision for everyone" that running back Ezekiel Elliott was released by the team on Wednesday, but his teammates still feel the sting of it.
Quarterback Dak Prescott has been with Elliott since they were both drafted in 2016 by the Cowboys. Elliott was the fourth overall pick that year, while Prescott came out of Mississippi State in the fourth round.
They’ve developed quite the friendship these past few years on and off the field, which makes this release more like losing a family member for Prescott.
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"It’s tough, a brother," Prescott told NFL.com. "Playing the game with a brother. To be able to start this NFL career and share so many memories and grow up as men … with this organization. Really can't imagine taking the field without him. I don't know if it's completely hit me yet. Obviously, I've talked to him. I'm hurt. I'm sure he is. It's more important for me to be able to support him. I know he's got more opportunities coming his way and love that guy, proud of him."
Elliott parting ways with the Cowboys comes after he agreed to a six-year, $90 million contract, $50 million of which was guaranteed. That took him through the 2026 NFL season with the Cowboys.
However, there was an opt-out clause the team could exercise in 2023, and that’s exactly what the front office felt was the right move.
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The emergence of running back Tony Pollard in the team’s offense is a key reason why Elliott’s departure isn’t all that surprising. He was a high cap hit, and Pollard’s production – 1,007 rushing yards, 371 receiving yards, 12 total touchdowns – had him on the field more often than not.
Elliott averaged 3.8 yards per carry, rushing for 876 yards on 231 attempts. He was a favorite at the goal line, though, as he had 12 touchdowns on the ground to lead Dallas last season.
Elliott’s hard-nosed running style is something Prescott has loved playing with over the years.
"Zeke's a guy that, man, he played this game – did everything about this game – the right way," Prescott said. "Had fun, [he] did that. But when it was time to lock in, when it was time to focus and to give everything that you had and to show your teammates and show the younger guys what really mattered and how to get things done, Zeke was a guy to follow. Just of how to be a pro and how to be a pro with a smile on your face – and enjoying this game and enjoying life."
Turnover and transition have been words the Cowboys are used to since Prescott and Elliott entered the league. Only 10 remaining players are on the roster from the 2019 squad.
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"I didn't see this day coming – part of the business," Prescott said.
The business is cruel, but it should also produce a new home for Elliott in the league. Though he’s had injury problems, Elliott’s work ethic and ability to fight contact for more yards should lead the 27-year-old somewhere else.
Elliott totaled 8,262 yards and 68 rushing touchdowns in his seven seasons with the Cowboys.