ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones says he believes Ezekiel Elliott could miss more than just the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the New York Giants in a contract dispute.
"I'm operating as though right now he's going to miss regular-season games," Jones said of the running back after the Cowboys concluded the preseason Thursday with a 17-15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "My entire expectation for what we're putting together as a team right now would anticipate with him holding out and not having any training camp that he's going to miss games. I just accept that."
The Cowboys and Elliott's representatives have had talks in recent days but nothing appears imminent, according to sources. Near the start of training camp, the Cowboys made Elliott an offer that would make him the second-highest-paid running back in the NFL behind Todd Gurley II of the Los Angeles Rams.
Time, however, could be the biggest obstacle in getting Elliott's deal done for him to play at least against the Giants. Jones said he does not have a deadline for getting a deal done with Elliott or with quarterback Dak Prescott or receiver Amari Cooper.
"We'll be needing Zeke," Jones said. "Anytime we can get him out there, we'll be needing him, so we don't have deadlines here."
Jones has not had any direct contact with Elliott and does not believe it's necessary to close a deal.
"Not in this case. Zeke knows full well how valuable he is to our team," Jones said. "But he also knows because there's been a lot of games when he didn't play that he wants us to win if he's not playing. And we've got to be ready to win if he's not playing."
Elliott, 24, is facing fines of nearly $1.5 million for missing 37 days of training camp. The Cowboys also could seek repayment of $1.02 million in a prorated portion of his signing bonus. Once the regular-season work schedule begins, he would face daily fines of slightly less than the $40,000 he faced while in training camp. He will be out more than $226,000 in game checks for each week he misses.
Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, said he does not begrudge Elliott taking this route.
"If he doesn't do it now when the league is talking about devaluing the running back position, and he's proven he can carry the ball 350-plus times on a consistent basis, there aren't many backs in the National Football League that can do that," Smith said on KRLD-FM 105.3 The Fan in Dallas before the game. "We have one on our team and there's another one up in New York [Saquon Barkley] and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone else. When you have those caliber of backs on your squad, they're unique individuals. ... He deserves to be paid like that."
In 1993, Smith missed the first two games of the season, both Dallas losses, in a contract dispute. Four days after the Cowboys lost their second straight without Smith, he signed a four-year, $13.6 million deal that made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL.
"My contract was completely up," Smith said. "It's not like I broke my contract or tried to get more capital. I did what I told them I was going to do when I came in: I was going to earn the right to get in position to be paid like the highest paid in the league."
Elliott has led the NFL in rushing in two of his first three seasons, including 1,434 yards last season. He missed six games in 2017 because of a suspension but still managed 983 rushing yards.
Jones said his expectations for 2019 will not change if Elliott misses regular-season games.
"He can't and won't miss them all," Jones said. "We need Zeke. We're a better team with Zeke, but we need to be able to win when we need to without players because of injuries, suspension or in this case, holdout. But as I've said, this is a marathon."