At this point, no one cares about the details and running back Ezekiel Elliott has never been one to make excuses.
And whether he wants to talk about it or acknowledge it or not, the writing is already on the wall about what he has to do to secure his future with the Dallas Cowboys.
And if truth be told, even that might not be enough.
The numbers are the numbers in terms of his contract and his simultaneous drop in production, making 2022 possibly his last season with the Cowboys.
“I control what I can control,” Elliott said when asked about future. “I focus on what’s in the near future. I’m not really worried about what’s going to be going on after next season unless we’re going on to winning the Super Bowl.”
Well, if the Cowboys follow the 2022 season with a Super Bowl title for the first time since 1995, then all bets are off.
Everyone knows how partial owner Jerry Jones is to players who help him hoist championship trophies.
But short of that, it might be “Zeke Who” again for Jones and a Cowboys organization who also have been known to make tough decisions with popular players when the production does not justify the money.
Better yet, ask defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who agreed to a pay cut and restructured contract to stick with the Cowboys.
Elliott knows all too well what’s on the line for him in 2022 as he enters his seventh season with the Cowboys but most important, the fourth year of the six-year, $90 million deal he signed before the 2019 season.
One reason he didn’t get the Cooper or Lawrence treatment this past offseason, despite an $18 million salary cap hit, is because his $12.4 base million salary for 2022 was already guaranteed.
It would have cost the Cowboys $30 million in dead money to move on from him.
But the guarantees are done after the 2022 season, and the Cowboys can ask him to take a pay cut from his $10.9 salary for 2023 or cut him and split the $11.86 million in dead money over the next two years.
Elliott, a two-time NFL rushing champion and three-time Pro Bowler, remains one of the NFL’s highest paid backs but he has averaged just 61.9 rushing yards per game over the past two seasons after averaging 96.85 through his first four.
An injury to quarterback Dak Prescott and a declining offensive line played a role in his drop in production in 2020. And he labored through an injury last season, which affected his numbers.
But again, Elliott is making no excuses.
“I mean, I was hurt last year, but it’s football,” he said. “After Week 1 no one is going to be 100% and that’s part of the game.”
Still, Elliott could have opted to sit out, rest and get healthy. Most players would have. He didn’t.
He knew he was tough. He takes pride in showing it to everyone and being out there for his teammates.
“Toughness to me means regardless of circumstance, regardless of what you’re going up against, going out there and giving your all,” Elliott said. “It’s hard for me to picture it just being about me. You know what I mean. It’s a team sport. It’s kind of hard for me to be like hey, if it was just me … It’s never just me out there. It’s all of us.”
And even though his numbers and image took a hit, the team is what Elliott talks about when he says 2021 was one of the most frustrating seasons of his career.
He points to them wasting the NFC East title, a 12-5 record and home-field advantage in the playoffs with a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in a wild card playoff game.
“It was the most frustrating just because we had a great year and then we didn’t do what we needed to do once we got to the playoffs,” Elliott said. “So that was the frustrating part.”
Elliott is 100% healthy again.
He said coach Mike McCarthy was exaggerating a little when he claimed the veteran was running 22 mph in practice. Elliott said it was wind-aided.
He did agree with Prescott in his assessment that he is still the best back in the NFL when healthy. But he also knows what he and Prescott believe doesn’t matter.
Without a big year in 2022, this may be his last season in Dallas. It may be that anyway.
“I just want to go out there and play at a high level and make a deep playoff run,” Elliott said.
But the question remains, is he approaching 2022 with something to prove?
“I think every year we’ve got something to prove,” Elliott responded with a tackle-avoiding answer that was as deft as anything he has shown on the field the past two seasons.
But what about you personally?
“Yeah,” Elliott begrudgingly admitted.