FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott, making the running back a free agent, the team announced Wednesday.
Elliott, 27, was set to count $16.7 million against the salary cap with a $10.9 million non-guaranteed base salary. Elliott will be designated a post-June 1 cut, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which means the club will save nearly $11 million against the 2023 cap but he will count a little more than $6 million against the 2024 cap. The Cowboys will not get the cap credit until June 1.
At the recent NFL scouting combine, team owner and general manager Jerry Jones remained open to the possibility of keeping Elliott and Tony Pollard, who was given the $10,091 million franchise tag, but that was always unlikely. Elliott would have had to accept a substantial pay cut, and it’s not clear the Cowboys even made such an offer. In two of their high-profile releases in the past, they did not make pay-cut offers to DeMarcus Ware or Dez Bryant.
“Zeke’s impact and influence is seared into the Cowboys franchise in a very special and indelible way,” Jones said in a statement. “He has been a consummate professional and leader that set a tone in our locker room, on the practice field and in the huddle. Zeke defined what a great teammate should be, and anyone that has ever played a team sport would be lucky to have a teammate like Zeke and be much better for it.”
Thank you, @EzekielElliott! pic.twitter.com/kYlqwJO6Bf
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) March 15, 2023
Also Wednesday, the Cowboys restructured the contract of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, opening up $8.89 million in cap space, sources told ESPN, and agreed to a reworked contract with offensive tackle Tyron Smith. They are the fourth and fifth players whose contracts they have restructured in the past two weeks, following Dak Prescott, Zack Martin and Michael Gallup, freeing up nearly $45 million in room.
Smith was set to make $13.6 million in the final year of his contract and count $17.6 million against the salary cap. With the changes, Smith’s base salary will drop but he will be able to make up the money depending on how much he plays in 2023.
In 2019, Elliott signed a six-year extension worth $90 million that included $50 million in guaranteed money, but his numbers fell off the past three seasons, topping 1,000 yards (with 1,002) only once — in 2021, when the league expanded to a 17-game schedule.
Injuries slowed Elliott the past two years. He played through a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in 2021 while not missing a game. He missed only two games in 2022 because of a hyperextended right knee but wore a brace for most of the season.
While Elliott continued as the starter, the Cowboys relied more on Pollard last season. Pollard ran for 1,007 yards, scored 12 touchdowns and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time. The Cowboys have until July 15 to work out a multiyear agreement with him or he has to play the year on the tag.
Elliott had a career-low 876 rushing yards in 2022, but he scored 12 touchdowns and remained a top short-yardage back and pass protector. But in the final four regular-season games, he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and had just 17 runs of 10 yards or more on the season.
The Cowboys selected Elliott with the No. 4 pick in 2016 with the idea of him prolonging the career of Tony Romo with one of the best offensive lines in football. They never played a regular-season game together, with Romo suffering a back injury in the preseason, but Elliott helped fellow rookie Dak Prescott lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 record. Elliott ran for a league-best 1,631 yards in 2016, the third most by a rookie in NFL history, and had seven 100-yard games.
In 2017, he served a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, but in 2018 he led the league in rushing again with 1,434 yards. In 2019, he finished fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,357 yards.
He had 26 100-yard rushing games in his first four seasons but had just three in the next three seasons, including none in 2022. Last season, he joined Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett as the only backs in team history to reach 10,000 all-purpose yards.
Elliott turns 28 in July. He finished his career with the Cowboys with 1,881 carries for 8,262 yards and 68 rushing touchdowns. He caught 305 passes for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 80 career touchdowns is the third most in team history behind Smith (164) and Dorsett (86).