The Dallas Cowboys released veteran running back Ezekiel Elliott after seven seasons on Wednesday, with the news initially being reported by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
The decision also comes almost two months after he ended his Dallas career with a direct snap to Dak Prescott in the final play of a 19-12 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional round.
In a statement, team owner Jerry Jones called it "the best decision for everyone."
Jerry Jones on Ezekiel Elliott: “We have mutually agreed with Zeke that the best decision for everyone is that he will be able to experience free agency. ..We will always have a special place and love for Zeke & what he means to our Cowboys family, both as a person and a player.” pic.twitter.com/WYvt8Mwwge
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) March 15, 2023
Dallas tweeted a thank you to Elliott as well:
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) March 15, 2023
The Cowboys will reportedly designate Elliott's release as a post-June 1 cut, according to Rapoport, which will save Dallas $10.9 million in cap space and come with a $5.82 million dead cap hit, per Over the Cap. Elliott was due to earn a $10.9 million base salary in 2023 with another $5.82 million in roster bonus if the Cowboys kept him and didn't agree to a restructured contract — which he reportedly said he would do if necessary.
Instead, Elliott hits the open market as a 27-year-old running back with more than 2,000 career touches, 10,598 total scrimmage yards and 80 total touchdowns in 103 games. Although Elliott has been the most productive running back in the NFL since the Cowboys drafted him fourth overall in 2016, his efficiency dropped from 5.0 yards per touch in 2019 — his last year as a Pro Bowler — to 3.8 yards per touch in 2022.
He ranks third on the Cowboy's all-time rushing list behind Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett and ranks fifth in scoring behind Smith, Dorsett and kickers Rafael Septien and Dan Bailey. Elliott eventually signed a record six-year, $90 million contract with $50 million guaranteed in 2019 after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations, jokes and tropical vacations.
But ever since he signed his new contract, Elliott's production decreased. He saw a career-low 248 touches in 2022 — perhaps because of the emergence of Tony Pollard — and finished with his fewest rushing yards (876) in his career and tallied fewer than 1,000 total scrimmage yards for the first time in his career. Elliott did add 12 rushing touchdowns, though.
Elliott's departure now clears the way for Pollard, who was an ascendant talent before he broke out for his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2022 and made the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Pollard despite the broken fibula he suffered during the loss to the 49ers.