A week after his seven-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys came to an end, running back Ezekiel Elliott is drawing interest on the free agent market. Zeke has narrowed his options to the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, and Cincinnati Bengals, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, who adds Elliott would like to choose a new team by the end of next week.
Ezekiel Elliott’s Best Free Agent Fit
Elliott posted the worst season of his career in 2022, ceding touches to fellow Cowboys back Tony Pollard while posting just 3.8 yards per carry. Zeke is only 27 years old, but he has a lot of wear and tear after handling more than 2,000 carries for Dallas since 2016.
Still, Elliott could make sense for any of his three preferred destinations, especially if he signs for a deal near the league minimum. Let’s rank Elliott’s potential landing spots in order of the best fits from his perspective.
3) New York Jets
The Jets’ offense should look radically different next season, assuming Gang Green is able to eventually complete a trade for Aaron Rodgers. New York has changed its receiver room, adding Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman while subtracting Elijah Moore, but its running back depth chart looks the same.
Breece Hall should be the Jets’ top rusher, but he’s returning from an ACL tear he suffered in October. Although Hall believes he’ll be ready for training camp, Elliott would give New York a reinforcement in the event Hall has a setback in his recovery.
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Playing in a Rodgers-led offense that should be able to put up points could be a boon for Elliott, who could re-enter the market in 2024 if he signs a one-year pact this year. However, there’s enough competition in New York that the Jets are a firm third in our rankings.
Hall will be New York’s primary ball carrier if he’s healthy, but Michael Carter is also a threat. While Elliott is an excellent pass protector, Carter’s abilities as a receiver could earn him work on third downs at Zeke’s expense. And 2022 undrafted free agent Zonovan Knight is still around, too.
Add in a Jets offensive line that still has plenty of holes, and New York should be the least attractive suitor on Elliott’s list.
2) Cincinnati Bengals
If the Bengals were to sign Elliott, they would probably move on from Joe Mixon, whose release would create more than $7 million in cap savings for the upcoming season. Given Cincinnati’s lack of young RB options on its roster, the club would also likely target a back relatively early in the 2023 draft.
There could theoretically be a role for Zeke with the Bengals even if Mixon stays. Cincinnati rarely trusts Mixon on passing downs and reportedly offered third-down back Samaje Perine a contract similar to what he signed with the Denver Broncos.
The Bengals were one of the NFL’s pass-happiest teams in 2022, which could result in a lack of touches for Elliott. However, Cincinnati was also the fifth-most efficient and eighth-highest-scoring offense in the league a year ago, so Zeke would have plenty of goal-line opportunities to punch in for scores.
Additionally, the Bengals have rapidly improved their offensive line over the past two offseasons. New left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was the club’s big-ticket item this month, but Cincinnati also added four new starters — left guard Cordell Volson, center Ted Karras, right guard Alex Cappa, and right tackle La’el Collins — last year. Collins’ status is up in the air, but the Bengals’ front is in a much better place than it was two years ago.
Returning to Ohio would also represent something of a homecoming for Zeke, who starred at Ohio State and briefly overlapped with Joe Burrow before the future Heisman winner transferred to LSU.
1) Philadelphia Eagles
While the Bengals would give Elliott a soft landing spot, the Eagles profile as an even better destination.
Philadelphia signed Rashaad Penny this offseason, but the former first-rounder has been beset by injuries his entire NFL career and has never handled more than 120 carries in a season. Just once has he managed more than 85 carries.
Kenneth Gainwell is also on the Eagles’ roster, but he’s failed to top 30% playing time in either of his two pro campaigns. Miles Sanders’ departure created a void that Elliott could help fill.
Philadelphia boasts the best offensive line in the NFL, with a unit that is heads-and-shoulders ahead of every other front five when it comes to run-blocking. Isaac Seumalo’s defection means the Eagles won’t bring back all five OL starters in 2023, but 2022 second-round pick Cam Jurgens is on hand to take over at right guard.
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Philadelphia led the NFL in rushing success rate last year and nearly doubled the efficiency of the next-best running attack. Jalen Hurts constantly threatens defenses as a rusher, which could open up lanes for Elliott in Philadelphia.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman rarely shells out for running backs, so Zeke’s cheapest offer might come from Philadelphia. But given that he’s already made more than $70 million in the NFL, Elliott should join the club that gives him the best chance at personal success and winning a Super Bowl trophy — and that’s the Eagles.