NFL free agency has officially begun. Just two years after signing the largest running back contract in history, the Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott have parted ways. Now a free agent, which teams are the best fits for Elliott?
Ezekiel Elliott Free Agency Best Fits
Each free agent class is different, having its own strengths and weaknesses. This year’s running back class was initially loaded with guys like Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, and Saquon Barkley set to hit the market. Unsurprisingly, each of their respective teams franchise-tagged them. Since then, we’ve seen a bevy of lesser-talented, but still quality running backs find new teams as well.
This is a double-edged sword for a guy like Elliott. On the one hand, with so many running backs no longer available, he moves up the ranks of those remaining. On the other hand, with so many running backs signed, there are fewer spots for Elliott to continue his career.
Elliott wasn’t listed in our Top 100 NFL Free Agents because he was still under contract. Despite his clearly declining play, Elliott is undoubtedly one of, if not the top RB out there right now.
MORE: Remaining 2023 Free Agents by Position
Like many others, I, too, had been clamoring for the Cowboys to push Pollard ahead of Zeke for the past two seasons. In 2022, the team had no choice. Pollard is just such a vastly superior player at this point.
At the same time, let’s not take away from what Elliott has accomplished in his career. The running back shelf life — especially the modern one — is perilously short. Elliott’s time as a top back has come to an end, yet those first four to five years were phenomenal.
Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of his first three seasons. He averaged over 4.5 yards per carry over his first four seasons. In his fifth season, Elliott’s production started to take a downturn. He was still good, but the heavy usage was clearly catching up to him.
Then, in 2021, it was clear Elliott was much slower and less explosive than he used to be. In 2022, there were times when it looked like he was trying to accelerate through a river of caramel. Juxtaposing his work with Pollard’s certainly didn’t help.
That didn’t make releasing him any easier for the Cowboys. It will be the first time in Dak Prescott’s career that he starts a season without Zeke. The two were drafted together in 2016. Prescott had this to say about one of his closest friends, “Yeah, it’s tough… it really is. It’s tough. A brother… playing the game with a brother… we shared so many memories, and grew up as men… I really couldn’t imagine taking the field without him…”
Now entering his age-28 season, Elliott’s career is nearing its end. He can likely prolong it if he settles into a short-yardage and goal-line role, but I’d be surprised if Elliott doesn’t still want a starting job. The question is whether there’s a team out there willing to give him one. Let’s examine the best fits for Elliott to sign now that he’s a free agent.
Elliott Could Follow Kellen Moore to the Chargers
I have no idea if Elliott and Kellen Moore have a special bond or any sort of close relationship. But Moore had been with the Cowboys since before Zeke got there. First as a player, then as part of the coaching staff.
Now in Los Angeles, Moore will try and turn the Chargers’ offense into one of the best in the NFL — just like he did in Dallas. Part of that task involves managing their running backs. Austin Ekeler is essentially a souped-up version of Pollard. He’s explosive, talented, and an excellent receiver. What the team would like to do is find a way to reduce the big hits he takes.
MORE: Austin Ekeler Landing Spots
Elliott would fit perfectly as the power back next to Ekeler. On early downs, the Chargers could mix in Elliott for 6-8 carries, as well as protect Ekeler near the goal line. If there’s one thing Zeke can still do extremely well, it’s fall into the end zone from the 1-yard line.
Los Angeles has plenty of salary cap space available, and furthermore, Dallas is still paying Elliott. I’m not sure if Zeke will get a multi-year deal, but I could see a team giving him two years at a reasonable price to be the other half of a committee. Joining the Chargers’ relatively old offense and making a championship push over the next two years makes sense.
Elliott Would Fit in Nicely With the Bills as Their Power Back
Despite being a perennial Super Bowl contender, the Buffalo Bills are a bit short on playmakers. Outside of Stefon Diggs, Josh Allen is pretty much working with role players.
One of those role players is running back James Cook. Dalvin’s younger brother does not profile as a three-down back. Most importantly, Buffalo knows that. According to Bills’ beat reporter Jon Scott, general manager Brandon Beane said they “will add another RB to roster and with James Cook and Nyheim Hines on the lighter side (200 lbs or so), that player likely heavier, power style.”
Beane didn’t mince words. This isn’t a, “We’d like to do this” scenario. He straight up said they “will” add a power back. Perhaps Elliott is the man for the job.
All signs point to Buffalo being done with Devin Singletary. There hasn’t been a single report I’ve seen indicating the Bills have any desire to bring him back, plus he doesn’t fit what they’re looking for.
Cook may not be a complete player, but he’s useful in the role they envision for him — the satellite back. What Buffalo lacked last season was a true power back who could grind out that tough yardage. With about $16 million remaining in salary cap space, the Bills could afford to bring in Zeke on a two-year deal.
They may not be able to pay him the most, but Elliott has made a lot of money in his career. Perhaps he’s more interested in chasing a championship. Given where Zeke is in his career, Buffalo may very well be the best fit for both sides.
The Texans Could Bring in Zeke To Backup Dameon Pierce
In the interest of full disclosure, I had a very difficult time coming up with a third potential landing spot for Zeke. So while the Texans certainly aren’t the best fit, but they are a fit.
Going from Dallas to Houston would allow Elliott to remain in Texas. While he probably wouldn’t have as large of a role as he desires, Elliott does make sense as a backup to Dameon Pierce.
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There’s also the matter of Pierce being a fourth-round rookie. Despite Pierce’s strong rookie year — where he totaled over 1,100 yards — he’s a Day 3 pick. We’ve seen far better Day 3 or UDFA players summarily replaced by veterans.
Perhaps the Texans want Zeke’s star power. With about $22 million in cap space and a lack of big-name players, perhaps they’d be willing to pay him a little bit more than the win-now teams.