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FRISCO, Texas -- Running back Ezekiel Elliott put a Dallas Cowboys jersey back on, kind of, Wednesday night, and he received the loudest crowd roar of the night at Riders Field, the home of the Texas' Rangers Double-A minor league affiliate -- the Frisco RoughRiders -- at the 11th annual Reliant Home Run Derby, an event in which the proceeds went toward the Salvation Army. 

After a year away from his football home of seven seasons (2016-2022) and being released before playing for the New England Patriots in 2023, Elliott re-signed with Dallas on a one-year contract worth up to $3 million that includes $1.625 million in guaranteed money on Tuesday. He registered career lows in rushing yards (642), rushing touchdowns (three), carries (184) and yards per carry (3.5) with the 4-13 Patriots. Elliott also hauled in 51 catches for 313 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. He led a struggling New England offense in rushing yards (642) and receptions (51). 

"I had a really good time in New England," Elliott said Wednesday night. "I appreciate that organization. It was definitely great playing for Bill [Belichick], but Dallas is home for me. Feels good to be back home with my people."

Zeke is No. 3 all time in Cowboys history in both rushing yards (8,262) and rushing touchdowns (68) in Dallas that included three Pro Bowl selections, being a 2016 First-Team All-Pro and leading the NFL in rushing yards twice (2016 and 2018). Elliott returns to Dallas only a few months shy of his 29th birthday (July 22) with more tread on his tires than anyone since entering the NFL in 2016 (2,065 carries), understanding he is in for a different role than that of the offensive focal point, which was what he was his first go-around with the Cowboys. 

His jersey number change is part of that acknowledged difference. Elliott wore No. 21 from 2016-2022 in Dallas, but he switched to his collegiate number from his Ohio State days -- No. 15 -- with the Patriots in 2023. 

"I just kind of look at it as a different era," Elliott said of the jersey change from 21 to 15. "I wore 15 last year. Once they made the rule that running backs could wear single numbers on the jerseys, I knew I wanted to switch, so it worked out. We've got unfinished business. I'm here to chase a ring."

What he promises to bring back to Dallas is his abilities as a short-yardage grinder and steady pass-blocker. 

"I think you guys all know what I'm going to give when I'm on the field," Elliott said. "I'm going to do whatever I need to, whenever I can to help this team be successful."

Everything Elliott brings to the table, both on and off the football field, excite quarterback Dak Prescott, who was a draft classmate of Elliott's in 2016, eight years after being selected 135th overall in the fourth round. 

"Super excited," Prescott said Wednesday when asked about Elliott's Cowboys return. "Obviously knowing our history, my experience with him as a brother, but in this case as a teammate, understanding what he brings to just in the locker room alone, the culture he sets. A guy that does everything the right way from the locker room to the field. He is a great guy that with us having a young team, bring guys in and people can follow and watch [him]. Excited for him to be back. Know the threat that he is going to provide. Big-time playmaker, and obviously I'm excited."

What the Cowboys quarterback appreciates most about his longtime backfield partner is how Elliott comes to work every day as his own, genuine self. 

"He's a real guy," Prescott said. "He's honest. What you see is what you get. He can have fun when it's time. But when it's time to be serious and lock in, there's nobody better than him. Just to be able to bring the fun to the locker room but in the same sense, you see that and be able to separate that the moment he steps on the field, to see his focus, to see his intensity, to see the way he practices. Every young guy should follow the way that he goes about his business on the field. It's going to be huge for this team."

Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones included Prescott as part of the process to bring Elliott back home, asking for his opinion about whether or not it would be wise to make Zeke a Cowboy again. Prescott relayed a clear message to Jones and the Dallas front office. 

"Me and Zeke always talk, I think there was talks before [he re-signed] with me and him, before it happened," Prescott said. "Obviously, he knew the ends of the deals. I was asked about him [by the Cowboys front office]. It was all excitement as soon as it was mentioned. … Nobody supported him more [than me] when he was up north [with the New England Patriots]. Just to have him back, I'm excited."

Prescott's sales pitch to Elliott succeeded. 

"Obviously you know Dak and me are close," Elliott said. "He wanted me to come back, but he wasn't too pushy, just respecting my decision. But I definitely felt the love." 

His love for his Cowboys teammates, not just Prescott, was evident last offseason when he worked out with some of Dallas' players despite being released in March of 2023. 

"When you've been somewhere for so long and built those relationships, those shared memories and shared connections, it's not going to go away at the snap of the fingers," Elliott said of continuing to train with his Cowboys teammates in the offseason when he wasn't their teammates. "I'm glad I'm able to come back."

The Dallas running backs room he is returning to is noticeably different than the one he left a year ago. Gone is his former understudy Tony Pollard, who signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency this offseason, and in his place are several youngsters, some of whom will play with Elliott for the first time in 2024: Rico Dowdle (2020 undrafted free agent), Deuce Vaughn (2023 sixth-round pick), new free agent signee Royce Freeman (2018 third-round pick), Hunter Luepke (2023 undrafted free agent) and Malik Davis (2022 undrafted free agent).

"I think we got a lot of young, talented guys," Elliott said. "A lot of guys with different skill sets, and so I'm looking forward to getting in that room, getting to know those guys and helping them grow their football knowledge and share some of my experience with them."

Despite Dallas not being able to draft a running back in the 2024 NFL Draft, Prescott possesses plenty of health in that position group because of what Elliott's presence can do for the relatively inexperienced group around him. 

"A lot of faith," Prescott said. "Obviously you add a guy like Zeke to a room that has a lot of depth in that sense. Guys who have played, got some playing time, obviously, it's a younger group, their experience, but I think that's the benefit of adding a guy like Zeke, what he can bring to that, what he can just give those guys for their career in a way that they can approach it. That's going to speed that process up for them, that makes them that much better and quicker getting on the field to help the team."

Helping the Cowboys achieve the postseason glory that has eluded them throughout his career is why Elliott is back. After three consecutive 12-win seasons without a conference championship game appearance, he feels he can help drag Dallas the extra few yards necessary to achieve different playoff outcomes. 

"It was important to me just to get back here," Elliott said. "Finish what I started."