After the Cowboys-Rams preseason game Saturday night, he cracked, “Zeke who?” when asked about the running back. He may have gone on to wink at reporters and point out that the team needs “Zeke who,” but the damage was done. Feelings were hurt and no one in Elliott’s camp was laughing.
“We actually thought it was disrespectful,” Elliott’s agent, Rocky Arceneaux, told ESPN.
Jones wasn’t going to take that, though, and he fired back in comments to reporters after a news conference Tuesday in which he grew emotional as he announced a five-year, $64 million contract extension for linebacker Jaylon Smith.
“I’ve earned the right with Zeke to joke,” Jones said (via the Morning News). “Period. I’ve earned it.”
Jones attributed some of his emotions to Smith’s recovery from a 2016 knee injury and said he had gotten no sleep Monday because of negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement. But he left no doubt where he stands.
“Let me be real clear about it,” Jones added, “I’ve earned that right to joke.”
Tight end Jason Witten certainly caught the vibe Jones was aiming for. “I thought it was a beautiful comment,” Witten said (via the Star-Telegram). “Like everybody, I hope this gets resolved and Zeke is in there sooner rather than later.”
Witten went on to predict, wrongly, that Jones’s jab wouldn’t bother Elliott. “Trust me, there’s nobody who loves Ezekiel Elliott more than Jerry Jones does. I wouldn’t have taken it that way and I’m sure Zeke didn’t either.”
So the running back continues to hold out, watching, waiting and working out in Mexico. Elliott, whose contract calls for him to make $3.8 million this season and over $9 million in 2020 on a fifth-year option, wants a long-term contract extension. The Cowboys are in control here, of course, because Elliott, 24, is under contract for two more seasons and they could franchise him in 2021. Earlier this month, the Morning News reported that the Cowboys had offered to make Elliott the league’s second-highest paid running back, which evidently didn’t cut it. And the Cowboys are working on extensions for quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper, which led Jones to emphasize that the team is bigger than one player. Prescott and Cooper are both in camp.
“This certainly was beneficial to Jaylon and I can assure this was about team,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Our goals are to have the best team, and it takes cooperation from both parties when you’re doing agreements.”
In case that was too nuanced, he circled back and elaborated on the theme.
“The team takes precedence at a point over the opinion or the demand of the individual,” Jones said. “The team takes precedence. This was a team move we are talking about today [signing Smith]. The team takes precedence. And I’ve got the backbone to keep it that way.”
Jones took pains Saturday night to point out that he envisions rookie running back Tony Pollard and Elliott, who has rushed for 4,048 yards and scored 28 touchdowns in 40 games over three years, as complementary pieces in the backfield.
“He’s going to be, if he continues this through the next several weeks, he’s going to be right in the middle of it early,” Jones said Saturday, speaking of Pollard. “And that’ll really complement what we’re doing with Zeke. Not replace that. And I mean that. Not replace it. Nobody’s getting cute here. It certainly would be a great complement to have a great running game. … I can see those guys in the same sets at the same time and giving those defenses fits.”
Which leaves the Cowboys, as David Moore of the Morning News points out, in a tricky position. Jerry Jones has made no secret of his wish to win a Super Bowl now and with young players like Elliott, Prescott and Cooper, this is his best opportunity.
“We all know the urgency we have to take the next step with this group of young players,” Stephen Jones, the team’s executive vice president, told reporters Tuesday. “Certainly, we think a lot of them.
“We’re digging in a little bit because we’re trying to keep as many of these guys as we can.”