One of his draft classmates, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, was left to process the reality of saying goodbye to his career-long teammate.
"It's tough. A brother," Prescott said of Elliott at a charity event Thursday. "Playing the game with a brother. To be able to start this NFL career and share so many memories and grow up as men … with this organization. Really can't imagine taking the field without him. I don't know if it's completely hit me yet. Obviously, I've talked to him. I'm hurt. I'm sure he is. It's more important for me to be able to support him. I know he's got more opportunities coming his way and love that guy, proud of him."
Dallas has undergone plenty of changes since Prescott and Elliott formed a fantastic rookie duo back in 2016, leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 finish and an NFC East crown. There have been the highs of division titles and playoff appearances, and the lows of failing to meet the frequently stratospheric expectations of playing for Dallas. But Elliott is far from the only Cowboy to leave Dallas between then and now -- as of Thursday, only 10 players from Dallas' 2019 team remain on the roster.
"To hear 10 and realizing how much it's turned over, I feel like 10 is a big number at this point," Prescott said. "As I've always told y'all, it's been the draft classes after me and watching those guys. Go year after year, and now being one of the only ones of mine left. I didn't see this day coming. Part of the business."
When it comes to the business, both Prescott and Elliott have certainly earned their fair share of dollars. Prescott is entering year three of his four-year, $160 million deal signed in 2021; Elliott's six-year, $90 million extension ended after just three years.
Such lavish deals handcuffed the Cowboys when it came to adding (and keeping) receiving talent last year, and when it became clear Elliott's place in the offense was no longer essential, a departure became possible. A restructure may have been more likely at one point, but a quick examination of Elliott's production -- plus the rise of fellow runner Tony Pollard -- made the ultimate outcome easier to predict.
Unfortunately, that's the way the business operates sometimes in the NFL.
"Zeke's a guy that man, he played this game -- did everything about this game -- the right way," Prescott said. "Had fun; did that. But when it was time to lock in, when it was time to focus and to give everything that you had, and to show your teammates and show the younger guys what really mattered and how to get things done, Zeke was a guy to follow. Just of how to be a pro and how to be a pro with a smile on your face. And enjoying this game and enjoying life."
Elliott will find his next destination in the coming weeks. Prescott will have to rely on his memories of their time spent together in Dallas. It didn't produce a title, but it certainly produced plenty of highlights to be cherished.