Feed Me: Ezekiel Elliott’s Contract Talks Reveal Millennial Mindset

August 28, 2019
Author: Tyran Saffold Jr

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, is facing a dilemma similar to companies across the country — how much is too much to pay top talent? As the 100th season of the National Football League (NFL) approaches and America’s team takes center stage, there is a financial disconnect between the star on their helmet, and a star on the team—Ezekiel Elliott.


As a Millennial, he represents the largest generation in the workforce and currently, he wants to be compensated according to the value he brings to the team — and the boss, Jerry Jones, is hesitant to give in. Not because the team’s owner decided to harden his heart on the issue, but technically, Elliott is still under contract for another two years.

But what happens when your star employee suddenly demands a performance-based raise? Will you tighten your pocketbook or pay your employee for the level of their production? In a strong economy and tight labor market, employees have the edge in negotiations.

Defining Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott is a noticeable professional in his business and his value extends across other departments of the company such as pass protection and receiving. As he gets up from being tackled, he pretends to shovel cereal into his mouth, holding a bowl in one hand and spoon in the other and every football fan knows what that means—feed me. And right now, he wants to be fed higher wages to keep producing at his level. For a business on the verge of losing top talent, denying a raise because it is ahead of schedule could be the wrong move.

He is the supply, and as a top-three running back in the NFL, he is in demand by 90 percent of his league. That means that if things don’t go his way, he can force his way out of the Big D through a trade. At that point, he can find someone who will match his value with their bank account. Similarly, in a tight labor market, your star player has options.

The Half-Back Option

According to the Jobs and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for June, there were 7.3 million job openings for the same month and an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent in July, the lowest in nearly 50 years. Under these labor market conditions, if employees request a pay raise, they won’t hesitate to hold out and place the burden on their employer to meet their demands. Just like free agents in the NFL, employers that hesitate to pay top dollar for top talent, like Zeke Elliott, risk turnover, reduced employee engagement, negative culture impact and more.

Although the reasons for quitting jobs vary, 89 percent of millennials said they would stay with the same company for more than a decade if two criteria were met:

• A regular increase in compensation
• Opportunities for upward career mobility

In order to develop a winning business game, top-level talent is needed; and when employees perform above their current pay grade, they will demand higher salaries—especially in a business where transparent pay policies are active. Employers need to make sure they are benchmarking their employees’ salaries and benefits to the market regularly and making adjustments as needed. By being proactive, employers can reduce the loss of star players.

Pay What?

“We’ve got it budgeted that we’re going to pay (Ezekiel Elliott) a significant contract at some point. He’s right at the top of the best in the business, if not the best. We certainly saw what (Todd) Gurley got paid and we know that’s probably where it starts, and we’ll go from there,” said Jerry Jones when asked about his star running back.

In Elliott’s mind, he has a clear starting point — he wants more than what Todd Gurley makes. Gurley is currently the highest-paid running back in the league.

“One way or the other, we are going to play football,” Jones said. The implication depends on whether it’s with or without Zeke. and if the team will still be as successful without Ezekiel as they were with him.

Last year, in the six games Ezekiel missed, the Cowboys went 3-3, with the help of a strong supporting cast of running backs. In the NFL, it is possible to succeed without a star running back just as long as you have other people who can make up for the slack. In the labor market, though, things are not as easy. There is not a line of employees ready to collaboratively fill the gap, and in most cases, their position will take months to fill. Is denying a salary raise really worth the risk?

Who is “Zeke”? In this employee-favored labor market, from the executive level to middle-management positions, we are all Zeke — and a star employee could be the difference between showing up in the Super Bowl or ending the season with only a handful of wins.