Now that the Dallas Cowboys have released Ezekiel Elliott, one of the top running backs of the past decade is now available for any team to sign if they wish.
While Zeke was once a top rushing threat, he no longer is. Elliott, while still productive, is three years removed from his last Pro Bowl season and has topped 1,000 yards just once in the past three years.
Still, as mentioned, Elliott can have success, in the right role, behind a strong offensive line. Being that the fourth overall pick from the 2016 NFL Draft is still just 27 years old and has a strong résumé backed by 8,262 rushing yards and 68 touchdowns, Elliott is sure to have at least a few NFL suitors.
With Elliott joining a free agent talent pool that continues to dwindle, let’s look at a few logical landing spots for the former All-Pro running back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers feed Ezekiel Elliott
If it’s familiarity Elliott is seeking, look no further than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who now employ Skip Peete, the former running backs coach for the Cowboys during the past three seasons. Not only could Elliott form a reunion with his previous coach, he’d likely also be set to receive a respectable workload trying to improve a rushing offense that ranked dead-last in the NFL last season.
If Elliott took his talent to Florida, he’d be joining a backfield that features 2022 third-round pick Rachaad White, who could vie for the starting role. Either way, the Bucs will be adding another running back to their depth chart this offseason, and being that White is coming off his rookie season, the chance to add a 27-year-old pro with 102 starts under his belt could be enticing as Baker Mayfield looks to provide a spark under center next season.
Buffalo Bills go for thunder and lightning with Zeke and James Cook
Buffalo’s previous RB1, Devin Singletary is a free agent this offseason, yet there’s a sense James Cook, the 63rd pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, could be set for a starting role instead. However, the chance to supplement the smaller-statured Cook, who measures in at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, with Elliott, who may be better suited for short-yardage goal-line scenarios at 6-foot, 228 pounds, could play well for the Bills.
He’d also get the chance to join a top-five offense, just as he previously enjoyed with the Cowboys while having a shot at contending for his first Super Bowl. Joining the Bills likely means Elliott wouldn’t be a star, and he’d be far from a featured player in an offense that features Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, yet those same x-factors could open up more space for the player coming off a career-low 3.8 yards per carry.
Los Angeles Rams buy low on Elliott
While the Los Angeles Rams as a whole had an odd season in 2022, their running back situation was truly unique. First, it was 23-year-old Cam Akers who no longer appeared to have interest in suiting up, yet the Rams still wanted to stick behind their 53rd pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. Only to later have him return to his starting role later in the season.
Still, the Rams don’t exactly have a short or long-term solution at the position heading into 2023. Elliott would at the very least provide a very capable and experienced rusher to the backfield as Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp return to health next season.
Los Angeles Chargers move off Austin Ekeler, sign Zeke
As mentioned when linking Zeke to the Bucs, the familiarity levels with new Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is even stronger. Moore has been with the Cowboys for all seven years of Elliott’s career, two as a player and the past five as a coach. If there’s anyone who both has a strong say in what type of plays get called while also knowing his strengths and weaknesses, it’s Moore.
We don’t know what’s happening with Austin Ekeler and while it’s difficult to imagine the former undrafted star in another uniform, he has reportedly been given permission to seek a trade elsewhere. If the ‘Bolts move on from Ekeler, they could look to form a backfield led by Elliott, complemented by Isaiah Spiller and Joshua Kelley next season.
Elliott stays in-state with Houston Texans
Elliott has already won over the hearts of several Texans. Making the natural move from Dallas to Houston wouldn’t be a big leap, and the Texans could use another rusher in the backfield to give Dameon Pierce a breather. Mike Boone was brought in, and he could very well be useful on third downs, but the 5-foot-10 bac won’t get the job done on 3rd-and-short.
Houston has already shown they’re not afraid to spend money in free agency. Elliott would be the latest attempt to bounce back and avoid another bottom-five finish next season after loading up on talent in April’s NFL Draft. They could certainly do a lot worse than a player who has over 8,000 rushing yards in his career.
Cincinnati Bengals bring Buckeyes star back to state of Ohio
The state of Ohio already loves Elliott from when he thrived with the Ohio State Buckeyes, helping win the CFP national championship in 2014, finishing as the program’s second-leading rusher.
- Ezekiel Elliott stats last season: 231 carries, 876 rushing yards, 12 TDs
Since joining the pros, Elliott has continued to run through traffic while putting up big numbers on the ground, becoming a two-time NFL rushing champion. But now the accomplished rusher is available, likely at a fraction of Joe Mixon’s cost. Elliott may be one of the top running backs on the market, but he won’t come anywhere close to Mixon’s $12.7 million cap number in 2023.
Elliott has been in the NFL one more year than Mixon and holds a better yards per-carry average at 4.4 compared to 4.1 yards per tote for Mixon. Should the Bengals decide it’s time to move on from their strong rushing/receiving option, Elliott could possibly offer a similar amount of production at a much lower salary rate.