Desperate Ezekiel Elliott Signing Shows How Far the New England Patriots Have Fallen

The former first-rounder was released by Dallas following a down year

Ezekiel Elliott before his last game as a Dallas Cowboy.
The former face of the Dallas Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott is a Patriot now.
Getty Images

It may seem like ancient history now, given all that has changed in the NFL and the world since 2017, but that was the year that Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 783 yards and seven touchdowns, prior to accepting a suspension from the NFL for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, in relation to domestic violence allegations made by his former girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson. A former first-round pick for the Dallas Cowboys out of Ohio State, who’d tallied a league-best 1,631 rushing yards en route to a First Team All-Pro selection as a rookie in 2016, Elliott lost six games to suspension during his sophomore campaign, but was still able to get America’s Team to give him a six-year extension in the summer of 2019. That pact guaranteed him $50 million, and made him the NFL’s top-paid running back.

Robustly compensated by the Cowboys, despite the prior domestic violence allegations, Elliott was released by the team this past March after tallying a career-low 876 rushing yards in 2022. On Monday, the 28-year-old, who still scored 12 touchdowns and remained a top short-yardage back, while also excelling in pass protection, swallowed his pride and just took a one-year deal with the Patriots that can be worth up to $6 million with incentives, according to ESPN.

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The Patriots, who are fairly thin at running back behind 2022 lead rusher Rhamondre Stevenson, typically would have avoided a player with a checkered history like Elliott (or at least pretended they would have). But desperate times call for desperate measures and things are starting to feel fairly Misery-esque in Tom Brady-less New England. The Patriots, after decades of dominance, are projected to finish last in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

The addition of Elliott, who has never been as good as he was as a rookie in the years since, and may have very little left in the tank, shouldn’t do much to impact that calculus, but it does show how eager the Patriots are to beat the odds. New England’s decision to keep cornerback Jack Jones in the midst of very serious gun charges, despite the shadow of Aaron Hernandez continuing to hang over the franchise, is also emblematic of that desire.

The Patriots ignoring Elliott’s past and signing him is interesting because New England was also linked to former Viking Dalvin Cook, who inked a one-year deal with the New York Jets just hours after his peer signed with Bill Belichick and Co. Cook, who played in Minnesota for six seasons prior to hitting free agency, allegedly offered $1 million to a former girlfriend to get him cleared of domestic violence related to a 2021 lawsuit, according to a document filed in Dakota County District Court that was obtained by The Minnesota Star-Tribune.

Like Elliot, Cook took a one-year deal, but his contract could be worth up to $8.6 million. Like Elliot, Cook also had a down 2022 season with his per-carry average at a career-low 4.4 yards. Unlike Elliot, Cook has a $7 million base salary with the Jets, more than the former Cowboy will get from the Patriots even if he hits all of his incentives.

In the coming days, there may be leaks that character concerns and Cook’s ongoing legal situation were the reason why the Patriots signed the former Cowboy instead of the ex-Viking, but the reality is the decision came down to money. If the Patriots really had concerns about Cook’s past, they wouldn’t have signed Elliot to be their No. 2 running back of the future. Elliot was less expensive, not less polarizing, and perhaps that’s what New England has really cared about all along despite the decades of (disproven) talk about “the Patriot way.”

Or, maybe Cook is just a fan of HBO’s Hard Knocks. If the Patriots miss the playoffs, they may be on it next year.

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