NFL Pre-Season Picks — Cowboys Look For an “Elliott Alternative” vs. Niners


The Dallas Cowboys have a problem. And with each and every day that passes, it becomes a more serious one. They can’t get Ezekiel Elliott into camp, because he wants a new contract. And the only he can exercise any leverage at all against them is by holding out. Of course, he’s not getting paid during this period, but he’s obviously thinking that he will benefit financially in the end.

It is with this situation hanging over the franchise that the Cowboys will take the field for their pre-season opener on Saturday against the San Francisco 49ers. The game will take place at 9 PM ET at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

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Elliott has led the league in rushing yards per game for each of his three seasons in the NFL. And when he was sitting out his suspension in 2017, you saw who lame the Dallas offense could be. Dak Prescott is capable of a lot of things, but one thing he is not capable of is carrying this team on his own.

It would be one thing if Elliott and the Cowboys were close in the negotiations, but they aren’t. And Elliott’s agent has indicated that his client is ready to sit out the whole season if necessary. It is possible that players like Elliott, Melvin Gordon (Chargers) and Michael Thomas (Saints) feel empowered by what Le’Veon Bell did last year.

Now this puts the Cowboys in a position where they have to figure out how to move forward without their superstar running back. If they are not interested in bending to Elliott’s demands, there’s really no choice.

In the NFL pre-season odds posted on this game, the Niners are favored at home:

San Francisco 49ers -4.5 (-106)
Dallas Cowboys +4.5 (-104)

Over 36.5 points (-105)
Under 36.5 points (-105)

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We wouldn’t be too confident about the Cowboys’ ability to gain some leverage over Elliott based on something that happened in the pre-season. But they are certainly going to try. You may have seen some quotes by owner/GM Jerry Jones about how his team does not need to have a rushing champion to win a Super Bowl. Maybe that’s true, but they still need Elliott, given the present circumstances surrounding personnel. However, as they are wishing and hoping that circumstances change, everyone associated with the Cowboys will have their eyes on someone named Tony Pollard, who was drafted in the fourth round out of Memphis.

Pollard was not a starting running back for the Tigers, as they had the sensational Darrell Henderson, who gained over 1900 yards on an 8.9-yard average, and Patrick Taylor, who also went over 1000 yards. Pollard was used primarily as a wide receiver, but also averaged 7.1 yards a carry, and was a dynamic return man. As such, he is very useful to the Cowboys, who were the worst team in the NFL at returning kickoffs.

Of course, he’s not Elliott, but he’ll be able to make some plays. Veteran (and former Pro Bowler) Alfred Morris, who operated as primary running back when Elliott was suspended in 2017, was signed, and he’ll have to be ready.

Jimmy Garoppolo won’t play for the Niners until next week. But there are two quarterbacks who have started a number of games in Kyle Shanahan’s system who will get the majority of the snaps. Nick Mullens and CJ Beathard are going to battle it out for the backup job behind Jimmy G. Injury absences here include tailback Jerick McKinnon, linebacker Dee Ford and defensive end Nick Bosa (the second player picked in the draft). The Niners hope to have all of them available for the season opener, but there’s no guarantee.

The “veteran” quarterbacks for the Niners are a factor, as they have an edge over those on the Dallas side. Another factor is that during his tenure with the Cowboys, head coach Jason Garrett has shown unusual apathy toward the pre-season, going just 11-21-1 ATS. That’s 34.4%, and that pushes us toward the Niners on a surface that Jerry Jones has never really liked.

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