Ezekiel Elliott deserved a new contract: former NFL running back Rashad Jennings

Football season has arrived. The NFL kicks off its 100th season Thursday night with one of the oldest rivalries in league history: Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears.

But that’s not the only divisional game to pay attention to in the opening weekend. The New York Giants will face the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys will be taking the field with star running back Ezekiel Elliott, the first player to be valued at more than $100 million in franchise history and the highest paid running back in the entire history of the NFL.

“Zeke deserves that,” former NFL running back Rashad Jennings told Yahoo Finance’s On the Move. “As a running back, it's very short shelf life — like maybe three years or actually even as a running back, it might be even less than that. You got to capitalize as much as you can ASAP. ”

Elliott signed a six-year, $90 million contract extension. The deal includes just over $28 million in true guarantees, including a $7.5 million signing bonus, and an option bonus worth $13 million in 2020. His first two seasons of base salary are also guaranteed. That’s the largest sum of money ever guaranteed for a running back, surpassing Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley’s $45 million. But he had to fight to get there. Elliott did not participate in training camp all summer as the negotiations occurred.

“I think we're going to see one of the better seasons out of Zeke,” Jennings said. “I don't think it's a problem that they didn't pay him earlier. You know, you're trying to negotiate and weigh your options out. First they had to pay the offense linemen. I think that was what the hold up was. He just got paid.”

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott speaks about his new contract during a news conference at the team's NFL football team's practice facility in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. Elliott's agreement on a new contract ended a holdout that covered all of training camp and the preseason and came four days before the season opener at home against the New York Giants. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Holding out is normal

Players often hold out before the NFL season as they negotiate new contracts. Last year, Le’Veon Bell, who was then a running back with the Pittsburg Steelers, held out the entire season waiting for a new contract. But the Steelers didn’t budge. They declined to offer him a new contract and he signed with the New York Jets.

“There is a process, I think, to a running back's system,” Jennings said. “It's a little bit different than every other position. That's why you saw Le'Veon decide to take pretty much an off season to rest his body so he can get paid and have longevity.”

Running backs who play in the NFL have a 65% to 70% chance of ending up on an injury list in a given season, according to Football Outsiders, a website specializing in football stats and analytics. For Jennings the risk of injury for the position is enough for players to fight for a better contract.

“You are a workhorse, you get beat up every single time you touch the ball,” Jennings said. “If a guy carries the ball 2,000 or 1,000 times in a season or if he carries the ball 200 times or 500 — whatever the number is — that's how many times he got hit times two. That's how many times he fell and got back up as well.”

Valentina Caval is a producer for Yahoo Finance.

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Valentina Caval is a producer with Yahoo Finance.