Stop me if you’ve heard something similar before. Prying analytical eyes believe the Buffalo Bills have a well-documented issue running the football. To my way of thinking, that’s a refrain caught in a heavily scratched record. Over and over, we’re told to believe that Buffalo cannot run the ball if quarterback Josh Allen isn’t the one leading the charge.
Bills Mafia know the truth is fairly different, but that the idea of opportunity might be a bigger concern to the success of the team’s run game.
Enter the offseason. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott may just be someone looking for a renewed opportunity to run the football. Bills leading running back Devin Singletary is now a free agent who may very well be headed elsewhere to play in 2023. That leaves second-year back James Cook and mid-year veteran acquisition Nyheim Hines to take up Singletary’s mantle. On the surface, things should soldier on without issue, right? Cook and Hines both appeared underutilized last season, to the detriment of the team in many games. But is the combo of Cook/Hines capable of handling more prominent roles in offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s system? Do the Bills really need to add significant talent to compensate for the potential loss of Singletary? Would that talent be someone like Elliott?
Early mock drafts have had field days prognosticating over Buffalo’s pick at 27, with many sending blue-chip running back Bijan Robinson to One Bills Drive. Much chagrin has ensued within the fanbase. Certainly, the team and general manager Brandon Beane wouldn’t seriously consider using additional prime draft capital on the position — or would they? History tells us the team values the position enough to continuously go back to the well of opportunity, whether via the draft or through trades or free-agent signings.
But let’s go back to Elliott, who’s a current member of the Cowboys and signed through the 2026 season — though with an out that exists for the upcoming campaign. The Bills should want a player of his talent, considering what he’s meant to the Cowboys during his career. But “meant” and “means” imply two different wear-and-tear statuses in the NFL. During the 2022 season (and maybe prior to last season), Zeke Elliott had the look of a back clearly on the decline — at least to anyone watching with a critical gaze. Running back Tony Pollard, at only 25 (and a free agent this spring), appears to have usurped Elliott in the pecking order. That’s for good reason.
Per a report on Dallas’ running back situation by Bob Sturm of The Athletic, (and, in turn, shared in a piece by Scott Polacek with Bleacher Report), those observing Elliott believe both his opportunities and abilities have all but vanished at this point because, as Sturm says, “he has very little left in his legs, and the word is out.”
Sturm went on to say that he “...believe(s) Elliott has one option for employment above the league minimum, and it is right here in Dallas.” Of course hope springs eternal for all aspects of the NFL, and that includes Ezekiel Elliott. Perhaps by exercising that out in 2023, Elliott could be with a new team this offseason. Still, Sturm doesn’t see anyone paying Elliott premiere running back money, noting “...it is a very low number. Maybe one year for $2 million or $2.5 million, which is a far cry from what he is used to.”
I’m not suggesting the Buffalo Bills should sign Ezekiel Elliott this offseason or any thereafter. I tend to side with those who’ve essentially said he’s “toast” as an NFL player. As much as we like to believe it’s not true, father time comes much sooner for running backs, and that’s why most teams now — that have had the benefit of close observation — tend to pass on signing even the best backs to second contracts. It may come to be that franchises will prefer the franchise tag for one or two good seasons out of a back far closer to decline than not.
So again, this piece isn’t me stumping for Elliott. But it is perhaps a harbinger of the idea that One Bills Drive might listen to Jerry’s World if an opportunity in the league for Elliott exists outside of Dallas. Should that come to be, I would hope the Bills listen intently, ultimately choosing to decline Elliott’s services, since they’d mean riding within the confines of someone else’s misuse of resources. Unlike your own vehicle, replacing Elliott’s shocks, springs, and tires won’t improve his NFL future.