Imagine waking up from a nightmare that Alfred Morris was the starting running back for the Dallas Cowboys instead of Ezekiel Elliott.
Well, that’s the living, breathing reality the Cowboys woke up to on Tuesday morning after owner Jerry Jones officially drew a line in the sand between the team and the NFL’s two-time leading rusher.
“You don’t have to have a rushing champion to win a Super Bowl,” said Jones, during an interview with CBS Dallas-Fort Worth. “That’s one of the dilemmas at running back is that the league knows that you can win Super Bowls and not have the Emmitt Smith back there or not have Zeke back there.”
Cue the Ennio Morricon musical score as Jones and Elliott square up in a western-style standoff, hands ready and waiting by the hip holster.
There can only be one winner in this daunting game of fast draw, and Jones is hell-bent on being the last man standing whether it hurts his team in the short-term or not.
Make no mistake, there is no hope in the Cowboys even competing for a Super Bowl without Elliott in the offensive backfield.
A 30-year-old Morris isn’t getting off the couch and filling the shoes of one of the league’s most prolific rushers. Rookie fourth-round draft pick Tony Pollard, who is predominantly a third-down back, isn’t morphing into the bell cow overnight to save the Cowboys from the pending catastrophe.
Oh, and a catastrophe is coming.
Jones assured that by doubling down in his public comments about Elliott. Not to mention the comments could be construed as a bit hypocritical coming from the same owner who won three Lombardi Trophies with the NFL’s leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, on his roster in the ‘90s.
An entire season of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott feigning as a gunslinger would be a Hurricane Category 5 type of disaster. Playing without a top-tier running back is a viable option for teams with an elite quarterback, but I wouldn’t count the Cowboys as being among those teams.
That isn’t an attempt to minimize Prescott’s abilities because he truly is a great quarterback, assuming he has all of the requisite pieces around him—an elite offensive line, great receivers and a sledgehammer running back to balance things out.
However, there is no Super Bowl future for the Cowboys on Prescott’s arm alone.
Perhaps Jones is leaning on the hope that Elliott will return to the team, similar to what happened with Smith back in 1993.
After holding out for two games, the Hall of Fame running back conceded and returned to claim another rushing title and help the Cowboys win a couple more Super Bowls. Yet, the Elliott situation could turn out very differently, depending on how long the 24-year-old rusher is willing to stand firm in this ongoing game of chicken.
Jones’ comments only served to pour more gasoline on a small fire and help turn it into a raging blaze. The pride element has now been put into play since Jones basically suggested the Cowboys could win without Elliott.
Being unsuccessful at negotiating a new contract is one thing, but it’s something else entirely to come back to the team after hearing the owner make those comments. Jones might have inadvertently extended Elliott’s holdout.
A bombastic approach doesn’t always work in a contractual dispute.
Perhaps the most unsettling part in the entire ordeal for Cowboys fans is the fact that Jones actually has a legitimate argument for not making Elliott the highest-paid running back in the league right away.
There has been a long list of problematic incidents outside of football that would make any owner question whether the talent is worth the headache with Elliott, who recently avoided another suspension after being detained in handcuffs back in May, following an argument in a parking lot at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas.
That incident came nearly two years after he was suspended six games by the NFL for violating the league’s personal conduct policy over allegations of domestic violence. There is also the recent bombshell news of an alleged cover-up and a car accident in 2017.
Given the number of problems off the field, it would behoove the Cowboys to tread carefully at the negotiating table, especially with the pressing matter of extending both Prescott and wideout Amari Cooper’s expiring deals.
But they still don’t need Jones giving controversial soundbites and further alienating their superstar running back.
In the meantime, the Cowboys will move on with business as usual from the site of their training camp in Oxnard, while Elliott kicks back on a beach somewhere 1,214 miles away in Cabo, contemplating whether he’s willing to rest on his laurels and put Jones’ words to the test.