Keidel: Is Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott A Leader Or Headcase?

By Jason Keidel

In perhaps the least surprising news of the summer, there are reports that Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott got into an altercation at a Dallas nightclub Sunday night.

This, along with other incidents, both at Ohio State and during his brief career with the Cowboys, keep with Elliott’s Wild West persona. At best, Elliott has an affinity for nightlife and the trappings of fame. At worst, he’s a headache to borderline-felon who can’t keep his hands where they belong.

We already know Elliott was facing discipline from the NFL over domestic violence accusations back in Ohio. Then we have the repugnant video of Elliott lifting a woman’s shirt during St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Now this.

Is Elliott a victim of his own talent and stardom? Or is he inexorably drawn to danger?

Surely Elliott did not need to see his name in bold ink this morning, especially days — if not hours — before the NFL was to rule on his status entering the 2017 season. And while it’s self-evident that the Cowboys don’t want their star RB perilously close to missing games, doesn’t a part of you wonder if Dallas enjoys the attention to a point?

If Dallas did any due diligence on Elliott before drafting him, they surely knew he was not the strong, silent type. Even if the domestic violence charges didn’t make it to a courtroom, there’s enough behavioral smoke around Elliott to suggest he loves to live on the edge.

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And the Cowboys are renowned for investing in great talents who are also questionable characters. Going back to Hollywood Henderson, the Cowboys have always been equal parts football club and traveling circus. And while it’s silly to assert they condone Henderson stuffing narcotics in his thigh pads, or Elliott perpetrating violence upon a woman, there’s enough history of them rolling the dice on dubious dudes to suggest they at least like the aroma of trouble.

There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as the axiom goes. And clearly the Cowboys agree. But what happens if or when Elliott starts to miss games because of his malfeasance? Though we can’t say with certainty, there’s enough of a pattern here to suggest that Elliott will keep pushing the legal envelope until something, or someone, stops him.

At what point is it up to owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett to pull the young man aside and jar some sense into him? By the time a player’s fate hits Roger Goodell’s desk, it’s too late. Football teams love to profess the family ethic, live in the bunker of the locker room, with each man having the other’s back.

To use a military metaphor, where’s the commanding officer? Who’s the captain or major who reels in his wayward troops? Perhaps part of the problem is that the team’s two best players — Elliott and QB Dak Prescott — were rookies last year. If you’re looking for Dez Bryant to lecture the young man on poor aesthetics, well…

The Dallas Cowboys have often lost the line between fun and foible. Part of Jerry Jones’s business genius is seeing his franchise as a hybrid brand of athletics and entertainment. And he also understands our lust for the front and back pages, and thus if he can accommodate both, he will. But it seems his keen handle on human nature doesn’t extend to his own backyard. This is hardly the first time Jones has seen one of his players color outside the lines.

Ezekiel Elliott has the chance to join the orbit of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith as the preeminent player on perhaps the NFL’s preeminent — or at least most popular — franchise. If his rookie year is any indication, he could even fit himself for one of those mustard-colored jackets they hand out five years after a transcendent career.

But long before he can even think about Canton, Zeke Elliott has to keep himself on the Cowboys, and spend more time on the back page than Page Six.

Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.

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