OXNARD, Calif. – Even though Ezekiel Elliott is not at training camp, the Dallas Cowboys‘ goal is to sign the two-time NFL rushing champion to a long-term deal along with quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The order of who signs does not matter to executive vice president Stephen Jones, who heads up the team’s negotiations. Jones said there are planned negotiations between the representatives for the players, either face to face or over the phone, while the team is in California.
“Certainly we’ll be working on it behind the scenes and we feel optimistic that when we’re all said and done here that things will usually work themselves out,” Jones said during the state of the Cowboys press conference in Oxnard, California, on Friday.
Elliott’s absence does not help the process but the Cowboys view the running back’s absence more as a hiccup than something that will become protracted.
“Zeke is an outstanding player. I don’t want to seem cavalier about it, but I also don’t want to be unrealistic being alarmed about it. This is what we do. This is the air we breathe,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “And if you flared and knee-jerked … just because you have parts of it that need addressing, you wouldn’t be able to manage. You wouldn’t be functioning.”
The Cowboys have had talks with the representatives for all three players, including within the last week with Elliott’s. In the spring, they traded proposals with the agent for Prescott.
“All three have solid offers in front of them,” Stephen Jones said.
But not solid enough to get a deal done yet.
Prescott, who is set to make $2.02 million in the final year of his rookie deal, is looking at a substantial raise. The Philadelphia Eagles signed Carson Wentz to a four-year extension worth $128 million in the offseason that included $107 million in guarantees.
“You’d love to get a deal done that he’s happy with that the team can work with to surround him with great players on offense and to have a great defense and special teams,” Stephen Jones said. “If we can get all of that done then we’ve done well. Who’s to say exactly what that number is today or the length or what plays into that, but that would be the goal.”
New Orleans’ Michael Thomas and Atlanta’s Julio Jones are in negotiations with their teams regarding long-term contracts, which Stephen Jones said could affect the talks with Cooper, whom the Cowboys acquired in a trade at midseason in 2018 for a first-round pick from the Oakland Raiders. Cooper is set to make $13.8 million on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal.
“Obviously some guys do want to see the full market play out before they make a decision,” Stephen Jones said. “Could that be one of the reasons there’s not necessarily a lot of urgency to get the deal done yet? It very well could be. But for me, no. We could do the deal tomorrow and we feel comfortable doing something.”
Unlike Prescott and Cooper, Elliott is under contract through 2020 with the Cowboys picking up his $9.09 million fifth-year option in the spring. The Los Angeles Rams signed Todd Gurley to a four-year extension that included $45 million in guaranteed money last season prior to his fourth year, and Stephen Jones said at the scouting combine in February that the Gurley deal would be the starting point for a new contract.
Fitting it together is a challenge but not impossible.
The Cowboys have roughly $24 million in cap room at the moment, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They are well budgeted for 2020 as well but Stephen Jones said the lack of a collective bargaining agreement beyond 2020 plays a role because of rules involving contract structure.
“We are pretty good at it of where you are going to be projecting down the way,” Jerry Jones said. “One thing we know how to do is figure. We can figure and we can anticipate what the cap is going to be and what the revenues are going to be and what’s going to be available.”
In April, the Cowboys signed Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to a five-year, $101 million deal that included $65 million in guaranteed money. They know they will have to make Cooper, Prescott and Elliott among the highest paid players at their positions but want to be smart.
“I think these guys want to be here. They want to get it done, but they also want to be diligent. It’s a big deal,” Stephen Jones said. “You all know what a second contract means to these guys. It’s a big one for them, and it usually is the big one for most of them. Not necessarily for quarterbacks. But for most guys that second contract is big and they want to get it right, and of course, we want to get it right too.”