Zeke is different, though. Perhaps the fact that sentence can be written and understood without other defining elements (last name, team affiliation) is some evidence of this.MORE COWBOYS:Why Dallas will win Super Bowl 54There are much more profound reasons, though, why the Cowboys choosing to present a $90 million contract extension to Ezekiel Elliott, essentially tying him to the franchise through the end of his expected career lifespan, is a decision steeped in football logic.In reaching the conclusion that the modern running back has become a position of largely interchangeable parts, some better parts than others but still replaceable in comparison with players at several other spots on the field, one always is haunted by the history of the game. What if there were another Jim Brown or Walter Payton or LaDainian Tomlinson?Elliott has not risen to that level of esteem, but he might be near to that level of exception.NFL SEASON PREVIEW:Predictions, rankings, more for 2019After 40 games in the NFL, Elliott is averaging 101.2 rushing yards per game. That’s better than the career averages of Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith and Payton and just short of Brown’s 104.3. If you’re worrying their numbers were evened out as they aged, indeed, Elliott’s average rush production per game through three seasons is superior even to that of the great Barry Sanders.As the sport continued to evolve toward the passing game, Elliott demonstrated an enhanced ability to assist in that regard in his third season with the Cowboys, improving last season to 77 receptions, fifth in the league among backs.Elliott is different in form as well as function. At 230 pounds, he has sub-4.5 speed and excels in the department of yards after contact. He may not be at Saquon Barkley levels in all of these categories, but that is the Giants’ problem (eventually, and their blessing now, of course).As regards the wisdom of dumping a truckload of cash on Elliott, the only concern relative to the Cowboys is whether it makes salary-cap sense. And, with the way the Cowboys presently are constructed, and with the way the deal is designed, that appears to be the case. It seems certain Dallas will at some point find a way to reach an agreement with quarterback Dak Prescott on a replacement for his rookie deal. Prescott is not an elite quarterback, not the sort of game-breaker that Patrick Mahomes is for the Chiefs, but he is effective. And, relative to this discussion, he is much more so when he can hand or pass the football to Elliott.Prescott and Elliott entered the Cowboys’ backfield together as rookies in 2016, and when together on the field they mostly have known success. The team has a 28-12 record when both are available, a .700 winning percentage. In a 16-game season, that’s an 11-win team, and that’s fantastic in a league as balanced as the NFL.The Cowboys are betting their next several seasons on this combination, and on a defense that ranked third in yards and seventh in points allowed last season. With Elliott still only 24, this is the time to do just that. And by arranging an extension rather than a new contract, the Cowboys positioned themselves to owe him $50 million guaranteed, a manageable figure, and to exist still with a sub-$10 million cap hit for Elliott over the next two seasons.Whereas Bell produced only three runs of 20 or more yards in his last full season with the Steelers, Elliott delivered 11 such plays last season, the second-best figure in the league. Those longer runs are the sort that change games. Elliott also has shown the capacity to convert first downs — 74 last season, or one every four carries, the best figure among the league’s 1,000-yard backs — and to help keep the defense rested. According to ESPN producer Paul Hembekides, the Cowboys defense has been on the field for fewer drives than any team in the league since Elliott and Prescott arrived.2019 NFL PREDICTIONS:How Dallas ends up in the Super BowlThe one thing that surely does not make sense about the Elliott contract is the carnival Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones contrived through the course of training camp. If he had no desire to devote a significant portion of the team’s salary-cap dollars to the RB position, the conventional current football approach would have supported his plan. There was no need for “Zeke who?” and all similar folderol. (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/6c/f3/ezekiel-elliott-111918-getty-ftrjpg_permk13h7um11v9205vspt218.jpg?t=762063391&w=500&quality=80 In case you have forgotten — and let us hope not, because it was one of my finer moments as a columnist — Sporting News was a very early adopter of the “don’t-pay-the-back” approach to the game of professional football.Our test case was Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers, and we turned out to be correct on both sides of that discussion. Trying to pay him wrecked at least one season for the team, and probably impacted another. And the entire league was woken up to the folly of investing huge in any particular running back when the Rams got to the Super Bowl and mostly chose to deploy a guy they pulled out of the unemployment line in favor of one to whom they pledged the immediate future of their franchise. That Jones so badly mishandled that portion of the proceedings does give rise to the concern that he’ll mismanage the trickiest element of his investment: He cannot afford to coerce the team’s coaches to “get his money’s worth.” There will be the temptation to assure Elliott earns every dollar by overloading him with carries and catches. With Elliott’s style, this likely will serve to wear him down as the most important games of the season arrive.His 381 touches last season led the league. That’s not necessarily a statistical crown a player wants to win, and it isn’t likely to result in the postseason success Dallas has craved for so long. The team needs Elliott to be healthy and available for multiple playoff games.That hasn’t been an issue for the Cowboys too often over the past couple decades, but Zeke could be the guy to establish a new streak.