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Wednesday morning marked the end of an era in Dallas. According to Clarence Hill of the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, the Cowboys will move on from longtime running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has had some ups and downs in Dallas, but his tenure has been very memorable nonetheless.
In Elliott’s first few seasons, he was one of the best running backs in the league. The former Ohio State back led the NFL in rushing in 2016 and 2018, and it seemed like many more productive seasons were ahead. The Cowboys clearly agreed, signing him to a six-year, $90 million extension in the 2019 offseason.
Since then, though, Elliott hasn’t been the same player. The 2019 season was another strong one, but after that, his production took a noticeable downturn. The 2022 season marked a low point for Elliott, as his 876 yards and 3.8 yards per carry were both career lows.
In addition to his declining production, Elliott’s massive contract had four years left on it and made Dallas’ cap situation very difficult. From that viewpoint, it makes sense why the Cowboys are moving on.
Now, Elliott will test the open market for the first time in his career. He’s unlikely to land a role as a starting running back, but could find a home as a rotational back. As it turns out, there are several teams that could use his services this offseason.
With that said, here are the three best destinations for Elliott after his Cowboys release.
Tampa Bay is firmly in a transition period after Tom Brady’s retirement earlier this offseason. The Buccaneers already weren’t great in 2022 with Brady, and now that he’s out of the picture it is clearly a retooling period.
One area where Tampa desperately needs to improve is in the running game. The Bucs were a historically bad rushing team in 2022, averaging just 76.9 rushing yards per game. For reference, that is a whole 10 yards fewer than the next-worst rushing team last season.
With the Bucs releasing Leonard Fournette, that leaves second-year back Rachaad White as the top ball-carrier. While White showed flashes last season, he may not be ready to be the main guy yet. In that case, Elliott could be a good addition as a rotational back due to his experience.
One other area where Ezekiel Elliott could help out is in scoring. The Bucs scored just five rushing touchdowns last season, whereas Elliott had 12 by himself.
Finally, Tampa hired Skip Peele as its running backs coach this offseason, who worked with Elliott in Dallas for the last three seasons. With all things considered, Tampa could make sense for the longtime Cowboy.
Los Angeles was another very poor rushing team in 2022, albeit not as bad as Tampa Bay. The Chargers finished the season 30th in rushing, averaging only 89.6 yards per game. Austin Ekeler had a great season with 915 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing, but there wasn’t much behind him.
Actually, that’s a big reason why Los Angeles could be in the running back market. After extension talks stalled, the Chargers are allowing Ekeler to seek a trade this offseason. If he moves on, then they will need to add another running back to the rotation.
Like in Tampa, there is a coaching connection in Los Angeles that strengthens this possibility. The Chargers scooped up Kellen Moore, who was the Cowboys offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2022, as their offensive coordinator this offseason. That familiarity and the possibility of being a feature back have to be compelling points for Elliott.
At first glance, Buffalo may not seem to have a big need in the rushing game. After all, the Bills finished seventh in rushing last season with 139.5 yards per game, and scored 15 touchdowns. However, there are a few caveats with those numbers.
First, Josh Allen was responsible for a huge amount of that production, with 762 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Second, Devin Singletary, the team’s top back, is a free agent and could easily sign with another team. If he does leave, then the Bills’ only backs left are James Cook and Nyheim Hines, with the former in just his second season and the latter being primarily a special-teams player.
If the Bills do decide to add another back, then Elliott might be an intriguing pick. His experience would be very beneficial for Cook, and he still has enough in the tank to give some production. He could also benefit from playing alongside a running quarterback like Allen who could help take the load off.
Not a sure thing by any means, but Ezekiel Elliott to Buffalo is certainly an intriguing option.