All during the middle of May, the buzz has been former Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott may be a good fit for the Cleveland Browns. Is he?
He is certainly unemployed as the Cowboys showed him the door and made him an unrestricted free agent. Perhaps he took his huge red kettle with him. RB Tony Pollard had made Elliott expendable and was a much cheaper option.
End of an era: The #Cowboys have informed former NFL rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott that they are releasing him, per me and @TomPelissero. He’ll be designated as a post-June 1 release to create cap space. pic.twitter.com/QKZhkny76i— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 15, 2023
Elliott was in the top tier of paid Dallas players as he made $12.4 million last season alone. The former first-rounder was in the midst of a six-year extension he signed in 2019 worth $90 million. Dallas had placed the franchise tag on Pollard, so the writing was already in motion. Elliott’s release freed up $10.9 million in salary cap space for the Cowboys.
On the flip side, just like QB Dak Prescott, Pollard was a fourth-round selection in 2019 and looked at as depth. He had great speed and in a short time began to overtake Elliott’s carries. Still on his fourth-round contract, Pollard made $965,000 last year.
Elliott was a guy who would have over 300 carries per season for most of his career, yet in the past three years, his rushes have declined significantly. More importantly, a big portion of those carries were only inside the Red Zone where his running style was tough to stop. This becomes evident by his 22 rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons, and basically made him a specialist instead of the featured back.
He is a former Ohio State Buckeye who would fit right in. And now, Elliott is seeking to paint his name on a new mailbox. Could his next zip code begin with the digits 441?
Trying to visualize Elliott as a Brown
What would be the advantage of signing Elliott? What should the franchise expect to pay him? For what length of a contract? What would become his role?
Glad you asked.
For several years, Nick Chubb has had to share carries with Kareem Hunt. There is no telling what Chubb’s numbers would accumulate if he was the featured back or how many rushing titles he would have accumulated. Now that Hunt is in the same boat with Elliott as both are unrestricted free agents searching for a new checkbook, would the Browns sign another starting-caliber running back?
Jerome Ford is expected to become Chubb’s backup this upcoming season since Cleveland allowed D’Ernest Johnson to sign away in free agency as well as Hunt’s opportunity to become employed elsewhere. Ford is young, and cheap as he is playing on a fifth-round deal. The franchise seems to favor this aspect and use the $6.25 million they paid Hunt last year in other areas of need such as the defensive front.
The Browns did sign undrafted rookie free agent Hassan Hall of Louisville who ran for 1,820 yards in his college career and is a very good receiver. The team also has John Kelly as an option who signed a reserve/futures deal in January, plus Demetric Felton who has bounced from the receiver room to playing running back. All of these guys are being paid minimally.
People don’t wanna admit that Zeke to Cleveland makes sense. pic.twitter.com/OxH6b9zNYR— Nick Pedone (@NickPedone12) May 16, 2023
If the Browns were to sign Elliott, he would ask in the neighborhood of $8-10 million, and would prefer a three-year deal but would in all likelihood accept a one-year contract. At this point, it seems the NFL is telling Elliott he isn’t worth anything close to that.
The fact that Cleveland allowed Hunt to leave and his $6M+ deal, it would seem unlikely that the front office would consider a similar back making more - or even the same if the negotiations fell to that number. If that was true, then why not just bring Hunt back into the fold who already knows the system and is loved by the fans?
There are those who are pretty vocal about the possibility of Elliott wearing a #21 orange and brown jersey; well, except CB Denzel Ward currently owns that jersey number.
And it would seem logical that this would finally be the year that Chubb could be the lone featured back and get a ton of carries. He is also a very good receiver and an important cog in the passing game. It does appear that the offense will be more of a pass-happy system, so having Chubb as a fallback or check-down is going to be important.
Does bringing in Elliott who would siphon off of Chubb make any sense?
Elliott’s place in the league
The Cowboys really used Elliott as their workhorse in his first few seasons. He had 1,631 yards with 16 touchdowns in his first year in the league and was named to the NFL All-Rookie team, his first Pro Bowl, and named First Team All-Pro. He was ranked seventh in the NFL Top 100 Players.
After being suspended for six games in 2017, he then had 1,434 and 1,357 yards in 2019 and 2019, respectively with 605 carries. Then the next three seasons, Pollard began to shine and Elliott’s carries, catches, and yards per carry average began to decrease.
What once was a 5.1 rushing average per carry became 3.8. Which was great when the Cowboys had the ball on the three-yard line and needed him to bulldoze his way into the end zone.
The fact of the matter is that Elliott is no longer a great running back. He just isn’t.
In 2022, Elliott ranked 24th. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he was listed towards the basement in almost every category for a running back, whether rushing or receiving. His overall grade was 71.9.
Elliott ranked 45th in missed tackles forced, 47th in yards after the catch, and 48th in yards per route run.
In the pass-first offense of Dallas, Elliott had just 17 catches for 92 yards and zero receiving touchdowns. According to PFF, he was 42nd in passer rating when targeted plus had the third-highest drop rate.
Season.....Snaps.....PFF overall grade.....Rank
2022.........295..........68.3............................45 of 62
2021.........294..........69.3............................T-33 of 61
2020.......290............65.3............................T-46 of 61
2019.......346...........77.0.............................11 of 50
2018......420............75.7.............................T-22 of 59
2017......261............69.5.............................29 of 64
2016.....398............77.2..............................8 of 63
His Rushing Yards Over Expected (RYOE) was in the negative. The purpose of using RYOE is that it uses the opponent’s defensive alignment, the field position in which the offense is faced with, plus the situation to modulate how many yards a running back should be able to gain in that situation per carry.
Then take a peek at his role in the passing game.
Amidst the rumors, should the #Browns sign RB Ezekiel Elliott to be the new Kareem Hunt behind Nick Chubb? pic.twitter.com/WV6xGRfsRF— The Dawgs - A Cleveland Browns Podcast (@thedawgspodcast) May 16, 2023
His blocking skills are just adequate and this used to be one of his strengths. His hands are not as soft as they once were as well. The stark reality is that since 2020 he has been substantial to take what the coaches will give him without giving his team much more. Can Elliott still play in the NFL? Of course, given the right situation of a club that will share carries.
Should the Browns consider signing Ezekiel Elliott?
One question: why?
What say you? Should the Browns sign Ezekiel Elliott?
If in the neighborhood of $6M, yes