FRISCO, Texas — From Zeke who to Jerry who?
That’s the $90 million rhetorical question after a dramatic and controversy-filled holdout by Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott that lasted a biblical 40 days and included one final night of consternation.
After flying to Dallas-Fort Worth from Cabo, met by a throng of cameras and reporters and in anticipation of finally getting a deal done, Elliott went to bed Tuesday night in a bad place.
He was mentally and physically drained and deflated by a sudden pause in negotiations.
He didn’t get much sleep and didn’t want to get up when his agents called at 6 a.m. with the good news.
“Yeah, it took them a couple of calls to wake me up,” Elliott said. “Honestly, I didn’t really sleep much. I got like an hour and a half of sleep and then I got a call super early, got up and came over.”
And so began a whirlwind day that started with Elliott and the Cowboys agreeing to a six-year, $90 million contract extension, including a whopping $50 million guaranteed to make him the richest running back in NFL history.
It put him back uniform for Sunday’s season opener against the New York Giants and back with his teammates for the first time since July 25 when they embarked to training camp in Oxnard, Calif., and he went to Cabo San Lucas to officially start his holdout.
A two-time NFL rushing champion and the only man besides Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Earl Campbell to lead the league in average yards per game in his first three years in the league, Elliott said it was important for him to surpass Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams as the highest paid running back in the league.
“Because I believe I am the best,” Elliott said.
Even though it was “the toughest thing” he ever had to go through, Elliott said holding out was the only way he could accomplish his goal.
In addition to being away from his teammates, he had to deal with some tough talk from owner Jerry Jones, including a “Zeke who?” joke that wasn’t received well by Elliott’s agent, Rocky Arceneaux.
Jones doubled down on the comment, saying that he had earned the right to joke with Elliott and then said last week that the Cowboys were prepared to open the season without their star runner.
Elliott called it negotiating talk on Wednesday and said those issues were in the past.
“I mean, that’s so far behind us,” Elliott said. “We signed a deal, so there’s no point in talking about that other stuff.”
But he also acknowledged he hasn’t talked to the Cowboys owner since at least June.
“Honestly, I didn’t talk to Jerry at all (during negotiations),” Elliott said.
“No,” Elliott said.
Are you anxious to talk to him?
“Uh, I’m happy to talk to him,” he said.
Clearly, vice president Stephen Jones handled the negotiations to get the deal done, turning a Zeke-who joke into a $90 million Jerry-who deal.
What did have Elliott and the Cowboys excited Wednesday was that the team was able to install its offense for Sunday’s game with him back in the fold.
“I think that is big,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think both sides wanted that to happen. Zeke wanted that to happen. He has wanted to be here. Sometimes the business side of things get in the way. He has been champing at the bit, communicating with our players and coaches.
“Just know it was important for him to get back in here. Again, he was in that 7:30 meeting and will have a full Wednesday in preparation, getting ready for a big game on Sunday.”
Elliott arrived for the 7:30 a.m. breakfast club at the team’s headquarters at The Star in Frisco, greeting teammates with high-fives, hugs and open arms.
Asked about his reaction to Elliott showing up, quarterback Dak Prescott said, ‘Oh, hell, yeah.”
Said center Travis Frederick: It was great to see him out there. He just brings an energy to the building and to the group. We are really fortunate to have him back. Guys were just excited to see him. It was less about, ‘thank God you’re here, thank God you got your deal done’ and more about ‘man, I’ve missed you. I haven’t seen you in a month!’ It’s just weird not having him around.”
Elliott said the toughest part of holding out was being away from his teammates. He said they kept him encouraged while he was away with calls and texts and he was overwhelmed by the greeting he got upon his return.
“Calls, text, I mean, one of my teammates told me don’t come back without a deal,” Elliott said when asked how his teammates supported him. “I mean, just support like that from this group of guys meant everything. It definitely would have been harder if things were the opposite.
“Just happy for me to be here, just energy in the building. It was awesome and very uplifting. But honestly, last night I went to bed in a bad place. So waking up and getting that call and being able to come in this morning and see these guys was special.”
Now the questions become, how is Elliott’s conditioning and how much can he play on Sunday after missing all of camp?
Elliott said he had a trainer with him in Cabo. They did a lot of metabolic work and game simulation, “just try to simulate training camp as much as I could.”
He said they will assess the situation throughout the week but he plans to be smart about it and stay healthy, though he can’t wait to play.
“It means everything to suit up in front of these fans,” Elliott said. “That’s what they deserve is to go out there and give them a show.”
Nobody was more excited to have Elliott’s juice back in the lineup for the opener than Garrett.
“Yeah, obviously excited,” Garrett said. “Zeke has been a big part of our team. He’s so well respected by everybody in our organization. He’s been a really important player for us. It’s great to get him back in here. Everybody loves Zeke. He brings great energy and juice.
“100 percent, you … kidding me, it’s Week 1 against the New York Giants,” Garrett exclaimed.
©2019 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Visit the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at www.star-telegram.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):