The Patriots have found their help at running back.
The Patriots are expected to sign former Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott to a one-year contract worth up to $6 million, a league source confirmed Monday.
Elliott played the first seven seasons of his career with the Dallas Cowboys. The 28-year-old will likely serve as New England’s backup running back behind Rhamondre Stevenson on the depth chart.
Elliott confirmed the news on Twitter, announcing that he will wear No. 15 — his old collegiate number at Ohio State — in Foxborough.
Here are five things to know about New England’s agreement with the running back.
1. Elliott was one of the most feared running backs in the league
Since arriving in the NFL in 2016, Elliott spent most of his seven-year career as a focal point of the Dallas Cowboys’ offense.
During his tenure with the Cowboys, Elliott earned two All-Pro nods (2016, 2018) to go along with three Pro Bowl nominations (2016, 2018-19).
Elliott has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards three times in his career, using his 6-foot-0, 226-pound frame to burst through goal-line situations and fight for extra yardage. But the former Buckeyes star is more than just a weapon in the trenches.
Elliott developed into a reliable receiving threat for Dak Prescott over the years, averaging 57.5 receptions per season from 2018-21.
In his prime, Elliott was an every-down back capable of carving up defenses in a variety of ways. He finished his career in Dallas with 1,881 carries for 8,262 yards, 305 catches for 2,336 yards, and 80 total touchdowns.
2. 2022 was a down season…by Elliott’s standards
Despite his impressive body of work, things went south for Elliott in 2022.
In 15 games (14 starts with Dallas), he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and only reeled in 17 catches. His 876 rushing yards were the lowest of his career, with Dallas allocating more reps to backup Tony Pollard as the season went on.
With Pollard (5.2 yards per carry) making the Pro Bowl, the Cowboys ultimately opted to cut ties with Elliott in March. The move saved Dallas about $11 million under the salary cap for the upcoming 2023 season.
Even though recurring knee issues sapped Elliott of some of his explosiveness over the last few seasons, he still put up productive numbers during his snaps in 2022.
In a “down” season, Elliott scored 12 rushing touchdowns — equaling the number of rushing scores that the entire 2022 Patriots roster achieved.
3. Elliott’s arrival fills a pressing vacancy on New England’s depth chart
Even though Elliott may not be the same player he was a few years ago, his presence alone should help alleviate a New England roster in desperate need of bodies behind Rhamondre Stevenson.
Despite Stevenson’s breakthrough performance in 2022 (1,461 total yards), New England ran the talented back into the ground as the season carried on. During the final weeks of the 2022 campaign, an ankle injury limited Stevenson to just 13 rushing attempts over New England’s last two games.
New England has prescribed more load management for Stevenson this preseason in order to keep him fresh. But fewer reps in the summer won’t mean all that much if Stevenson is once again running on an empty tank by Week 14 or 15.
Second-year players Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong were viewed as potential contributors after New England cut free-agent pickup James Robinson earlier this offseason. But so far, neither player has particularly popped in camp, despite the potential reps up for grabs.
An early-camp injury for Ty Montgomery further complicated things for the Patriots. The veteran has the skillset to develop into a dependable pass-catching back for Mac Jones, but he has not been present at New England’s practices for close to two weeks now.
Given the need to spell Stevenson and the lack of proven options behind him, signing Elliott stood as a logical move for Bill Belichick, Matt Groh, and the rest of New England’s coaching and player-personnel staff.
4. Elliott’s skill set should address some concerns across New England’s offense
Elliott’s versatile skill set should come in handy for New England, beyond just his ability to lighten Stevenson’s workload.
New England’s red-zone offense was dreadful in 2022 — ranking 32nd out of 32 NFL teams with a 42.2 percent touchdown percentage.
But in short-yardage situations, even a banged-up Elliott was a useful asset for the Cowboys last season. Of his 12 rushing touchdowns last season, seven came from the 1-yard line — with Elliott one of the best in the league at using his sturdy frame to barrel through a wall of defenders near the end zone.
As noted by Chad Graff of The Athletic, Elliott ranked seventh among NFL running backs at third-down conversions last season — gaining first downs on 67 percent of his third-down carries.
He’ll also earn points from Belichick and his staff for taking care of the football. Elliott has only fumbled once over the last two seasons (532 touches).
With Montgomery still working his way back from injury, Elliott can also step in as a reliable receiving threat in the backfield for Jones.
And given the state of New England’s offensive line, Elliott’s reputation as one of the better pass-blocking running backs should come in handy.
5. New England reportedly made a concerted effort to bring Elliott aboard
Considering the dearth of options behind Stevenson, Elliott became a priority for the Patriots as this preseason carried on. The Patriots hosted Elliott on a free-agent visit earlier this summer, and even though he left without a deal in place, both parties eventually bridged the gap on a contract.
Christopher Price of The Boston Globe tweeted Monday that a deal between New England and Elliott has been “percolating for about a month now”, with the Patriots” outbidding the rest of the field for Elliott”.
During Elliott’s free-agent visit to Foxborough, the running back was spotted having dinner out in Boston with Mac Jones.
“I think it’s really important as a leader to just try and go out there and show them that we’re all here to be together and to win. … It’s never a bad thing, right,” Jones said of playing an active role in recruiting players to New England. “You want to have as many great players as you can. I’ve just been really pleased with the guys we have in the room, because it’s plenty enough, and we just have got to come together and make it work.”
Even though Jones said at the time that New England has “plenty enough” already in its locker room, both current and former Patriots expressed their enthusiasm for Elliott’s arrival on Twitter Monday night.
Conor Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.