Cut Ezekiel Elliott? Trade Chris Godwin? Barnwell forecasts offseason moves for all 16 NFC teams

    Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for

While those of us on the outside have only begun thinking about the NFL offseason in the days after the Chiefs beat the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, the league’s 32 teams have been preparing their plans for weeks, if not months.

Every organization always has one eye on the present and the other on the future, but once their seasons ended, it was full-speed ahead in preparing for March’s player movement window.

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to break down the first key move each team should make before free agency begins. I’ll hit the 16 NFC teams this week, followed by the AFC next Monday. In some cases, it might not be the most important move of the entire offseason, with the Bears and what they do with the No. 1 overall pick as an example of where those two priorities differ. In many cases, this will be resolving a messy salary cap situation, retaining a key player or deciding whether to let a franchise stalwart leave for another team.

Let’s start with a Cowboys team now facing uncertainty at a position that had been settled for years.


Dallas Cowboys

Resolve the running back situation.

After years of having a clearly defined one-two punch, the Cowboys can go in several different directions at running back. Ezekiel Elliott’s status is in question after he has battled injuries the past two seasons, while Tony Pollard, an unrestricted free agent, fractured his left fibula in Dallas’ playoff loss to San Francisco. Both players could be back in 2023, or the team could start over.

Let’s start with Elliott, who was a franchise cornerstone before signing a six-year, $90 million extension before the 2019 season. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 101.2 rushing yards per game before the extension, but he has been limited to 4.2 yards per carry and 66.9 yards per game afterward.

Over that four-year span, per NFL Next Gen Stats, Elliott’s 1,013 carries have generated just 54 rush yards over expectation (RYOE), suggesting that he could be ably replaced by a league-average back. (Pollard’s 510 carries have generated a whopping 446 RYOE over that same stretch.) Elliott has a popular reputation as a valuable short-yardage back, but he has generated five fewer first downs over expectation than an average back would have gained in the same situations.

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