Cowboys Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott seems to be enjoying himself this offseason.
He's comforted a young Stars fan who was hit by a puck. He's revved up the crowd during Stanley Cup playoff games at American Airlines Center when featured on the jumbotron. He's gone deep sea fishing with teammates and taken part in military style team leadership drills, showing off his level of fitness sans shirt, in North Carolina. He's appeared at Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith's charity event.
It wasn't so long ago that the Cowboys and Elliott were questioned about Elliott's decisions off the field and if there was cause for concern during the long offseason. He did, after all, appear in a spate of negative headlines in 2016 and 2017, culminating with a six-game suspension by the NFL when the league ruled that he'd violated its personal conduct policy. Elliott fought the discipline and denied the NFL findings of domestic abuse.
Now it's 2019, Elliott has led the NFL in rushing two of his three seasons, and the Cowboys have picked up his fifth year option for 2020. He seems to be embracing the spotlight and scrutiny.
"I think that Zeke has always had a wonderful heart," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday at the groundbreaking of the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Hope Lodge in Dallas. "These players can see through anybody. All you got to do is go in the locker room, and you'll see that Zeke is inspirational. Zeke is inspirational with not only what he does on the field, but what he does in the locker room. He's a bright soul, I call him.
"There was really no doubt that some of those things that frankly reflect just a spirit of positiveness, a spirit of being alive, those kind of things took some adjusting."
Jones supported Elliott throughout the yearlong NFL investigation and Elliott's ensuing legal battle against the discipline.
Elliott is among a handful of high-profile Cowboys who want a contract extension, but the lack of movement in a long-term deal hasn't become an issue as of now, with Elliott taking part in the offseason program. Dallas already in talks with quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper. The Cowboys have said they intend to reward Elliott, though they have no time frame in place. Running backs have notoriously short careers. The Cowboys have Zeke on the roster through 2020 and could put a franchise tag on him in 2021 if they didn't want to commit to a new deal, though that approach likely wouldn't go over well.
"We want to make sure that how the players of the Dallas Cowboys are paid ... that it reflects everything," Jones said. "At the end of the day they've got to be great teammates and help each other have a successful team, which is what our fans want."