It’s been a week since the Dallas Cowboys and All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott finalized a six-year, $90 million contract extension that made Elliott the highest-paid running back in the history of the NFL. That deal was preceded by a planned holdout that lasted 40 days, and detailed in a news story that posted on Wednesday.
Holdout was calculated
Longtime Cowboys beat writer Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram offered a behind the scenes look at Elliott’s holdout, writing that it was a calculated move by Elliott and his representatives at Alliance Management Group.
The founder of Alliance, Rocky Arceneaux, said the plan for Elliott’s holdout took shape immediately after the 2018 season ended, but that the holdout wasn’t specifically for the Cowboys.
Rather, it was to protest the current collective-bargaining agreement and the fifth-year option on rookie deals for players drafted in the first round; Arceneaux argues it punishes running backs.
(The salary amount for the fifth-year option varies. For players drafted in the top 10, as Elliott was, it’s based on the transition tag amount, or the average of the top-10 highest-paid players at their position the year the option is exercised. For Elliott, that meant his fifth-year option would have been $9.1 million; that number was only lower for tight ends, though there were no tight ends taken in the first round in ‘16.)
Arceneaux explained every step to Elliott, who participated in the Cowboys’ voluntary offseason workouts and OTAs.
The plan was almost derailed by Elliott’s May incident in Las Vegas, but when the NFL decided not to punish the Cowboy, Elliott and Arceneaux forged ahead.
First offer left Cowboys speechless
Elliott had dinner with Emmitt Smith the night before Dallas flew to its training camp home in California without him; in 1993, Smith’s own holdout lasted two games into the regular season.
The dinner strengthened Elliott’s resolve.
The running back decided to return to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and the Diamante Resort, where he decamped during his 2017 suspension.
Things got interesting after that. Brian Hannula, the chief contract negotiator for Alliance, sent Dallas the initial offer from their side.
Hill writes that the offer “left [Cowboys’ brass] speechless and had them thinking it was a misprint.”
The deal wasn’t just to make Elliott the league’s highest-paid running back – it was to make him its highest-paid receiver. More than Odell Beckham Jr.’s $18 million per year average, and a total compensation of $110 million that would have made Elliott the highest-paid player in Dallas history.
The Cowboys’ initial offer would have made Elliott the second-highest paid back in the league, behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley.
There were more hiccups, including an offer from Dallas that topped Gurley’s contract but was back-loaded, so Elliott’s team declined it.
But at 3:50 a.m. last Wednesday, the Cowboys made another offer, and less than an hour later, it was accepted.
Elliott was at the team facility a few hours later for his first practice, and played on Sunday against the New York Giants in the season opener.
“There were ups and downs,” Elliott said. “Some days it seemed closer than others. I mean, a lot of times I felt like we were getting close then it kinda regressed. I had to trust that they [his agents] were doing the right thing. I wouldn’t have been able to get through it without them.”
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