The Dallas Cowboys’ release of Ezekiel Elliott served as an untimely reminder that the NFL is a business. Winning and sustaining a capable roster while avoiding a reboot is the ultimate goal, and that oftentimes results in the release of faces of the franchise who are no longer worth the price of admission.
Cowboys fans experienced this with DeMarcus Ware in 2014.
Ware was one of the best pass rushers of his generation. He posted 117 sacks in nine seasons and only one player in NFL history — late Hall of Famer Reggie White – had more 15-sack seasons in a career (five) than Ware’s three.
Coming off a career-low six sacks in 2013 and having missed the first three games with a quadriceps strain, Ware was released. He was set to turn 32 in July and count $16.003 million against the salary cap.
While Ware won a Super Bowl in Denver and notched double-digit sacks in 2014, the Cowboys made the right call in releasing him.
Ware’s been in Elliott shoes and he offered that perspective in a recent conversation with Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Stephen Jones on why Cowboys didn’t offer Ezekiel Elliott a pay cut:
"Sometimes the best thing is to let them get a feel for what the market is. The last thing you want to do is do anything that would be insulting to a great player like Zeke…"
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) March 27, 2023
DeMarcus Ware responds to Cowboys releasing Ezekiel Elliott
“It just it is what it is,” Ware told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “But Zeke still has a lot in the tank. But you got to also think about the salary cap issues that I don’t know about. That was the best decision. It happened to me to where it got to a point where I was still playing well. I still had something in the tank. But you got to also think about the whole team in general. And so they made the right decision. And they’ll keep doing the same thing.”
This is why Ware is the best. Most Cowboys fans understand Elliott still brings something to the table as a running back. By every metric, he was extremely efficient between the tackles and he accounted for 72 points last season, averaging out to 4.8 points per game. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
As Ware said, though, this was a team-first decision.
Now 27 years old — which is old for a running back to begin with and even older in Elliott’s case when you consider the workload he handled early in his career — Zeke was set to pocket a $10.9 million base salary and count for $16.7 million against the cap as the second-most expensive back in the NFL.
“It’s hard because when you play for a team as big as Dallas and that is America’s Team,” Ware added. “I got to play nine years in Dallas. I gave everything to Dallas. But as far the transition to another team, but you find out really fast that it’s a business. You got to take your business elsewhere, and keep it going. I did that in Denver.”
The Cowboys aren't ruling out an Ezekiel Elliott return. But they did tell us this week that they didn't offer Zeke a pay cut to avoid "insulting" him.
Latest from league meetings in Arizona:https://t.co/kKM5343z3D
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) March 29, 2023
Ware did that and then some in Denver.
While he wasn’t worth $12.25 million to the 8-8 Cowboys coming off his least productive season and an injury-plagued year, he was worth $10 million annually for three years to the Broncos. He earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2014 after posting 10 sacks and won a deserved Super Bowl the following year while battling injuries.
Cowboys fans hope Elliott can sustain similar success away from The Star, but they should take Ware’s take on the ordeal to heart. He took emotion out of it and called it like it is … unlike Emmitt Smith, who threw caution to the wind and took his former team to ask over the move.
Kudos to DeMarcus Ware for keeping it real.