New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick could revive yet another NFL career of a fallen star player.
Former Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, 28, remains a free agent after the NFL Draft with no signing in sight. The No. 4 pick in the 2016 draft, Elliott became the NFL’s leading rusher and an MVP candidate as a rookie.
His play remained at a high level through 2021, but his performance declined in 2022 with a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. Because of his decline and mammoth contract, the Cowboys released him in March.
While Elliott may not return to elite form, the Patriots could use him for running back depth as a power runner, pass-catcher, and blocker. The Patriots already have a 1,000-yard rusher in Rhamondre Stevenson, which negates the need for Elliott to become the lead back.
Elliott showed he can still score touchdowns with 12 for the Cowboys last season. He still takes care of the ball amid one fumble in the past two seasons. As a pass catcher, he only had 17 catches in 2022, but he had 47 or more catches and two touchdowns each of the previous three seasons.
New England could use Elliott to take some of the load off of Stevenson and alleviate the loss of running back Damien Harris to the Buffalo Bills. Stevenson eclipsed 200 carries last season, and quarterback Mac Jones threw the ball to him more than anyone else except for former Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Elliott would add a feature Harris didn’t excel in — pass catching. Harris only tallied 40 receptions for 281 yards over four seasons with the Patriots.
Patriots Can Afford Ezekiel Elliott
The Patriots could afford Elliott because he realistically can’t command anything close to his previous contract, a six-year $90 million contract with the Cowboys. New England has $11.8 million in salary cap space according to Spotrac. Belichick has a history of employing multiple running backs in the offense, and Elliott would give his team an experienced and affordable option.
Elliott has 8,262 yards and 68 touchdowns plus 305 receptions for 2,336 yards and 12 scores in his eight-year career. The former Ohio State star made one All-Pro first team and three Pro Bowls.
Ezekiel Elliott Could Play Against the Cowboys Unless He Returns There
For Elliott, he could get a shot at playing against his old team if the Patriots sign him. New England visits Dallas during the 2023 season. The NFL will release schedules on Thursday, May 11.
His departure came with mixed reviews from the organization to Cowboys legends, and talk about a reunion surfaced in the weeks following the release. Former Cowboys great Emmitt Smith became the latest to plug for Elliott’s return.
“Oh no doubt. As a matter of fact, I was extremely disappointed that they allowed Zeke to leave,” Smith told CBS Sports. “Because of the injury to Tony Pollard, I thought they would keep both of those guys back there and would have been able to give them some time to see how Pollard bounced back.”
Pollard overtook the lead back role in 2022 amid 1,007 yards rushing and nine touchdowns plus 39 catches for 371 yards and three scores.