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Jerry Jones says Dallas Cowboys gave released RB Ezekiel Elliott ‘everything we had’

Owner Jerry Jones refuses to close the door on the possibility of a Ezekiel Elliott return to the Dallas Cowboys for 2023.

But he says the decision to release the two-time NFL rushing champion, who finished as the team’s third all-time leading rusher and touchdown scorer, after seven years with franchise was the right one for the franchise.

And the Cowboys are better for it on the field and on the salary cap, which proved to be the over riding factor.

“It was all about making the adjustment principally because of the cap because of where we were,” Jones said at the NFL Owner’s Meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. “Love to have him. But again, with what we need to do to make our cap work and what we can do to really, in our mind, improve through scheme or another player, that was worth us saving that money on the cap.”

Elliott was set to count $16.7 million against the salary cap with a $10.9 million non-guaranteed base salary in 2023. And that number would not stand after the team gave Tony Pollard the franchise tag, guaranteeing $10.1 million in 2023.

Elliott was released as designated a post-June 1 cut, which means the club will save nearly $11 million against the 2023 cap.

Elliott’s impending release and departure had been in the forecast since he signed a six-year, $90 million extension in 2019.

It may have come earlier if not for the guarantees in his deal that forced the Cowboys to keep him on the roster the past two years despite a decline in production.

After a season in which Elliott rushed for a career-low 876 rushing yards in 2022, it was just a matter of when, not if.

Elliott was willing to take cut to stay with the Cowboys but it one was never offered by the Cowboys, Jones said.

“No, no specifically, no,” Jones said definitively.

Jones, however, refuses to close the door on Elliott’s Cowboys career and he won’t until he signs with another team. Elliott has a wish list of options but destination as of yet in free agency.

“I don’t want to ever and I don’t want to leave him hanging or fans hanging or anybody,” Jones said. “But I wouldn’t take any possibility off the table.”

Jones does acknowledged some full circle finality to Elliott’s time in Dallas that began with him coming to the team as a fourth-round pick in 2016 and team with quarterback Dak Prescott to lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and NFC East title as a rookie.

Elliott missed six games in 2017 due to NFL suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

It was Jones who stood beside him in his fight with the NFL during the process and even threatened to sue the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell.

Add in the team’s three divisional championships during his tenure and the protracted contract hold out in 2019 that became acrimonious at times and the Jones and Elliott bond was as a unique as any between owner and player in Cowboys history.

“Well, Zeke gave us everything he had and more,” Jones said. “And we gave him everything we had and more. So that’s the way you’d like to end it.”