FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott’s diminishing output and price tag helped hasten the end to his Dallas Cowboys tenure.
After spending the spring and most of the summer in the NFL’s free agency wilderness he landed with the New England Patriots, a team calling on him to be a complementary piece at running back for the first time in his career.
It’s a new world for the 28-year-old. Whether it’s a role he can excel in is to be determined.
For now, he is just happy to have the opportunity to be back on an NFL field.
“I was kind of at home for a long time, so I’ve got a lot of energy. I think I missed the first 17 practices of camp. So, I thought I definitely should come in, be kind of a little energizer at least,” said Wednesday, “The transitions been good. I’ve been getting along with the team. I love the coaches, I love the atmosphere, I love this program. I’m just having fun."
Elliott acknowledged he is still getting his bearings, spending most of the past week-plus getting accustomed to new faces and new playbook terminology during his limited time on the field.
While he continued to work out while he remained unsigned, he’s also still acclimating himself following his March 15 release in Dallas.
He was on the sideline for the Patriots’ second preseason game at Green Bay last week but didn’t play before the game was called off in the fourth quarter. It’s unclear if that will change for New England’s final exhibition Friday at Tennessee.
“I’m definitely fired up just to be out here to play football,” Elliott said. “Not being signed in the offseason and leading into camp — I’ve been anxious. I’m ready get out there and ball.”
It’s all a readjustment in trajectory as he prepares to enter his eighth season.
The No. 4 overall pick by Dallas in 2016, Elliott ran for 68 touchdowns and more than 8,000 yards over seven seasons. He led the NFL in rushing yards in 2016, when he was the runner-up for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and again in 2018.
He signed a six-year $90 million extension with the Cowboys in 2019, but his yards per game and overall usage continue to fall, leading to him being cut.
He eventually settled on a one-year deal with the Patriots, that a source told The Associated Press is worth $4 million with incentives that could boost his compensation to $6 million.
Still, Elliott pushed back at the idea of him having something to prove this upcoming season.
“I don’t think anything could put more pressure on me than the expectations I have for myself,” Elliott said. "It’s not really to go out there and prove anything to anyone. But just to go out there and show what type of player I am.”
He’s already done his part to start building relationships with his new teammates.
Veteran linebacker Matt Judon said Elliott’s passion was evident during the second day of their joint practices with the Packers last week, with Elliott jumping in and barking back at Green Bay players during a few heated moments.
“That competitive nature came out,” Judon said. “Whoever was in his colors, whoever was wearing his jersey, that’s who he was standing behind, that’s who he was rooting for. I think him taking on that role talking and actually being vocal — you can just see he’s mature in game of football, in the NFL and comfortable in any locker room you put him into.”
But Elliott’s extended time as a free agent may be an indication he isn’t being viewed as a lead backfield option at this point in his career, and he isn’t expected supplant Patriots projected starter Rhamondre Stevenson.
The most likely place he will get on the field will be in short-yardage situations, one of the biggest deficiencies for New England’s offense, particularly around the goal line in 2022. The Patriots had just 12 total rushing touchdowns last season, ranking 22nd in the league.
Blending in with Stevenson has gone well thus far, Elliott said.
“We’ve known each other for a while,” Elliott said. “He’s a back that has a similar running style as me, so I think we’ll be able to complement each other very well.”
Elliott said he’s content to let his play determine his future.
“My play style and the culture of this team I think is a good match. I think I’m a good fit,” he said.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Kyle Hightower, The Associated Press