FRISCO, Texas -- In many workplaces, people keep their personal and professional lives separate. That is nearly impossible when it comes to an NFL locker room because the time players spend together can often outweigh the time they spend with their families for nearly half the year between games, practices, film study sessions, traveling to games and working out. For Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and longtime Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is now a New England Patriot after Dallas released him this past offseason for performance and salary cap reasons, they went from coworkers to friends to best friends and brothers.
Elliott is set to make his return to his football home after seven seasons (2016-2022) on Sunday when the Patriots come to AT&T Stadium to face the Cowboys in Week 4. Elliott anticipates while Prescott is simply excited to see on of his best friends. The duo came to Dallas together in the 2016 NFL Draft with Elliott, now 28 years old, coming off the board fourth overall while Prescott, now 30 years old, had to wait until the fourth round to hear his name called.
"That's like my little brother, a best friend obviously," Prescott said Thursday. "We came into this thing together and grew on the field and off the field. It [his time with Elliott] was awesome. Obviously, it was unfortunate for him to go play for another team, but it's part of this business. We learn that pretty quick and seeing it when we had to part, it's part of it. Happy for him, always pulling for him. He's doing well. Excited for him."
Their football journeys today are on vastly different trajectories with Elliott playing out a one-year deal with the Patriots while Prescott has two years remaining on his four-year, $160 million contract extension he signed with the Cowboys in 2021. That was the also the case when they came to Dallas as rookies when Elliott was the clear-cut lead running back from Day 1 while Prescott initially begin his NFL career as a third-string quarterback behind Tony Romo and Kellen Moore. Injuries to both in the preseason would eventually pave the way for Prescott to start Week 1 alongside Elliott. He would go on to throw 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions in addition to 3,667 passing yards while completing 67.8% of his passes, earning him 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Elliott led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 their rookie season as the duo helped guide Dallas to a 13-3 record and the NFC's top overall seed.
"Yeah, it was huge," Prescott said when asked about the role Elliott performing at a high level immediately played in his career. However, their off-field relationship initially came out of necessity since Prescott's top-five pick draft classmate didn't have a driver's license, so Prescott would pick him up for practice.
"I think probably more so than anything, he didn't have a license at that time, so, I think that kind of forced our relationship to grow,'' Prescott said. "It wasn't about where we got picked. Any quarterback and running back coming in the same class, there is going to be a natural bond being able to learn the offense together, spend time together and get reps together. Ultimately when I got a chance to play, it made it that much greater."
Even though Elliott no longer has Prescott to rely on for rides in New England, doubt remains regarding the running back's possession of a driver's license today.
"Yeah, I don't think so," Prescott said. "When we were in the car, I was always driving."
If the two are going to see each other outside of AT&T Stadium prior to Sunday, Prescott will have to drive out to see his BFF. That makes the possibility of a pregame hangout session this weekend unclear.
"I doubt it," Prescott. "I don't know. I don't know their plans. They're staying in Las Colinas, I'll be at the house. Who knows."
Prescott did happen to be in the know when Elliott was released as Elliott informed the quarterback himself before Cowboys owner and general manger Jerry Jones made the phone call to let of Elliott. Dallas was facing a $16.7 million cap charge for one of the earlier years of his six-year, $90 million contract extension, and the running back's rushing-yards-per-game total declined every year of his career. Elliott's 8,262 rushing yards and 68 rushing touchdowns both rank as the third-most in Cowboys history trailing only a couple Pro Football Hall of Famers in Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.
"Zeke told me," Prescott said when asked how he heard the news. "Zeke actually called me and told me, actually a few days before it actually happened. He was just giving me a heads up. It was just business talking about different scenarios for him, different ways to approach before they released him and how they released him. It was just talks between brothers."
Prescott's answer for what his favorite on-field memory with Elliott is sounds exactly like what a sibling who grew up with you would say: a long run that didn't end up as a touchdown thanks to Elliott's own balance or lack thereof.
"Probably him jumping over guys," Prescott said when talking about his favorite Cowboys memories of Elliott. "Just clearing them and not changing his stride. One of the greatest plays that's never going to be shown fully is him jumping over the guy in Philly and then tripping over his own feet. I'll never forget it. If he would've scored, it would live forever, but because he didn't score it's just something we can laugh and talk about it."
Making friends in the NFL isn't hard, according to Prescott, but the 30-year-old acknowledges he doesn't have too many similar friendships from football like the one he has with the now-New England Patriot.
"This locker room has always been special, and I have had teammates come from other places [and confrim that]," Prescott said. "[Quarterback] Mark [Sanchez, who played for four different teams] used to tell me my rookie year that not all locker rooms are like this. We've got a great camaraderie. I give credit to the leaders in that locker room. The people that have played here in the time that I've been here. I don't think it's that hard. Obviously the relationship me and Zeke have is different. We came in together and played on this team seven years strong, on and off the field together. That relationship had a little bit more time invested I guess you could say, but there's a lot of guys in that locker that our relationship will go well beyond these walls in the football field."
Elliott will certainly be running with big head of steam on Sunday given the "" the three-time Pro Bowler acknowledged he would have upon his return to his first NFL Home. Prescott doesn't expect anything less than Elliott's absolute best.
"I expect Zeke's best every time he comes on the field," Prescott said. "That comes from the friendship, the standard we have for each other. He said it's going to be emotional, and yeah, I can't imagine that he doesn't come in and run just a little bit harder than he naturally does, knowing the trash talk that we all just kind of naturally do over the years. Getting to play against the guys that you trash-talked for years, yeah I'm sure."
Cowboys All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons, whose first two seasons in Dallas were Elliott's final two with the team, confirmed the back-and-forth banter Prescott alluded to.
"No excitement, he's just my dog," Parsons said Wednesday when asked if he would be excited to tackle his former teammate. "I know it's all love, and I know we're just going out there to compete. I feel like Zeke is coming for me because he used to tell [in practice in the past] 'you're lucky I'm not out there, I would really get you.' If there ever is matchup [between me and him], I'm looking forward to it. We missed his presence and the joy he brings to the locker room. It's going to be fun going against him."
It's days like Sunday that remind Prescott to treasure every moment from his professional football career since it's a stark reminder that his eight-season run in Dallas, which makes him the longest-tenured quarterback with the same team in the NFL today, could end at any time.
"It's part of it at the end of the day, this is a business," Prescott said. "I'm blessed that I was able to create those relationships because of this game. It's really just being thankful for the time that we've had together to create that friendship, to create that bond. None of us get to play this game forever. It's just being thankful for the time we have had together to create that friendship and to create that bond knowing none of us get to play this game forever. It's got to end at some point whether it ends with you retiring, being traded, changing teams, whatever it may be. Just blessed for the the time that we've had, the relationship we've gotten to create. This will go well beyond our time playing, [I am] so fortunate."