The Dallas Cowboys are no longer optimistic that Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout will end before the start of the 2019 NFL season. Owner Jerry Jones told reporters after Thursday’s preseason finale that he expects the running back to miss Week 1 and beyond.

According to reports, Elliott is looking to become the highest-paid running back in the league and doesn’t plan to play for Dallas until that happens. The Cowboys have reportedly offered Elliott a contract that falls short of the $57.5 million Todd Gurley received from the Los Angeles Rams last year. 

Elliott has been as productive as any running back since he entered the league in 2016. Unfortunately for the 24-year-old, running backs aren’t thought to be nearly as valuable as they once were.

Jones made it clear he agrees with that idea when he told reporters at the start of training camp that an NFL team doesn’t need a rushing champion to win the Super Bowl.

If Elliott does miss multiple regular-season games, his true value could be put to the test. The Cowboys begin the year with one of the softest schedules in the NFL, though that stretch does include important divisional games.

Dallas is set to host the New York Giants in Week 1. The Cowboys will play a second straight NFC East opponent when they visit the Washington Redskins in Week 2. They’ll return home for a matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3. 

All three of those opponents had losing records in 2018 and are considered long shots to make the playoffs this season. The Cowboys are one of the biggest Week 1 betting favorites, laying seven points against the Giants, according to OddsShark. Dallas will be favored in each of the next two weeks.

The Cowboys could very well start the season 3-0, giving them little motivation to meet Elliott’s contract demands. A slow start, however, could force Dallas’ hand to try and get their star running back on the field as soon as possible.

Things get much more difficult in Week 4 when the Cowboys visit the New Orleans Saints. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers visit Dallas in Week 5. A road game against the New York Jets in Week 6, followed by a matchup at home with the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7, takes the Cowboys into their Week 8 bye.

It’s hard to imagine that Elliott will still be sitting at home in November, though anything is possible if the two-time rushing champion is willing to miss games when he still has two years and close to $13 million left on his contract.