The National Football League keeps adding to its litany of issues and now it appears content to turn pigskin into poultry.

The latest game of chicken is currently taking place in Big D … as in Big Disappointment.

Ezekiel Elliott is the latest big-name player whose ego has dominated his team’s offseason activities. The former Ohio State running back is determined to sit out the Cowboys’ preseason team camp for the sole purpose of being the highest paid running back in the NFL.

The term “team player” is slowly eroding in professional sports. Athletes care about the dollars, and now it’s all about the top dollar. Forget about acting like a professional and attending camp while you work out a new contract. Elliott prefers to work out alone with Marshall Faulk in another country instead of showing leadership and showing up for his teammates.

Don’t forget that Elliott could assist and provide guidance to a less-experienced and talented Dallas backfield because they will be the players getting the most reps during the preseason schedule.

Don’t forget the fact that Elliott is STILL under contract. He is entering his fourth year of his rookie contract that will pay him just shy of $4 million. How terrible! It also includes a player of option of nearly $10 million which, apparently, he doesn’t have any interest of using.

Don’t forget that the Cowboys already offered Elliott a massive deal. It would leave him a couple of million shy of the Rams’ Todd Gurley on top of the all-time running back money list. He turned it down.

These negotiations aren’t a novelty. It’s part of an ongoing pattern of self-serving scenarios, a star player holding his team’s game plan and their teammates mentality hostage. Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire 2019 season because he didn’t get a top-level contract and had no desire to sign a franchise tag of 14.5 million dollars.

Yet his “determination,” if you want to characterize it that way, got him the most expensive deal ever (at the time) by a running back in pro football. Talent will eventually win. Players and their agents know this to be true.

The franchise tag should be eliminated. Let’s be fair here. It has been a tool that owners can use to keep quality talent on their roster. It was designed to keep players from bolting to larger-revenue teams and hold a level playing field. James Conner performed aptly in Bell’s absence and looks to now be a big part of the Steelers’ future plans.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon continues his holdout, looking for more money. He and Elliott plan on missing regular-season games in efforts to increase their wallets.  

The Saints’ Michael Thomas threatened to miss camp if he didn’t get a new deal. He just became the first non-quarterback to sign a $100 million contract after he originally turned it down because he wanted to greatly exceed the record and had to “settle” for $20 million a season for five years. He is the highest-paid wide receiver in history for now. Atlanta’ Julio Jones is primed to negotiate a new contract soon.

When will enough be enough? When will the NFL and owners take a stand? Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has drawn a line in the sand with Elliott, but for how long? Everyone knows how much Dallas needs their star back to make it back to the Super Bowl. But Jones gives us indications he’s willing to wait it out.

“We have to be prepared to play without any given player,” Jones said to 1053 The Fan radio on Wednesday. “... We may very well play without a player that’s not coming in on his contract. We’ll play and we’ll play well.”

You see this revolving door of defiance have an effect elsewhere. After Andrew Luck abruptly announced his retirement last weekend, some disgusting Colts fans booed Luck as he departed Lucas Oil Stadium for the last time.

I imagine certain fans see pro athletes as money-grubbing, self-absorbed players who only care about themselves. I would also point out how narrow-minded and ridiculous they sounded as the spewed their vitriol at their former quarterback.

Luck is a shining example of what a pro athlete should be. He played the game with class and dignity while absorbing countless punishment and injuries. He should be applauded, not disrespected.

Luck did sign the biggest contract in NFL history in 2016, but that was after owner Jim Irsay had indicated on multiple occasions that Luck told the team during negotiations that he would not sign until he made sure the team could afford to keep their top guys.

A team player.

The money will always be there. It’s what the world of pro sports revolves around. If you want to be the best at something, try caring more about championships than contracts. Just ask Tom Brady.

It’s time to quell the money train. It’s time to talk turkey.

MATTHEW SPARKS is a guest columnist. Follow @SparksWillFly35 on Twitter.

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