Dak Prescott on Ezekiel Elliott: “I can’t imagine playing without him.”

The Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in 2016, with Dak Prescott arriving 131 selections later in the same draft. The Ohio State running back’s arrival was greeted with great fanfare, while the Mississippi State quarterback was an afterthought.

Only preseason injuries to Kellen Moore and Tony Romo made Prescott the team’s starter, and now, seven years later, Prescott has outlasted Elliott in Dallas.

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The Cowboys made Elliott’s release official Wednesday, something Prescott wasn’t prepared to face.

“It’s tough,” Prescott said Thursday, via Jon Machota of TheAthletic.com. “It really is. It’s tough. Playing the game with a brother. Being able to start this NFL career and share so many memories, and grow up as men with this organization, I really can’t imagine taking the field without him. It’s something that I don’t know if it has completely hit me yet.

“Obviously I’ve talked to him. I’m hurt. I’m sure he is. But it’s more important for me to just be able to support him. I know he’s got more opportunities coming his way. I love that guy. Proud of him. I’m the No. 1 supporter for him no matter what.”

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There’s a “slim” chance Elliott returns on a greatly reduced deal. The Cowboys never were going to keep Elliott on a $10.9 million base salary and a cap number of $16.72 million for 2023, while owing him no more guaranteed money.

Even knowing it was coming didn’t prepare Prescott for Wednesday’s transaction.

Elliott and Prescott became fast friends after arriving as rookies. Now, they likely go their separate ways.

Only 10 players remain from Mike McCarthy’s arrival as head coach in 2020.

“To hear how much it has turned over, 10 is a big number at this point,” Prescott said. “I didn’t see this day coming. It’s part of the business.”

This offseason, the Cowboys also have said good-bye to another of Prescott’s close friends, Moore, who now is offensive coordinator of the Chargers after a mutual parting.

“Having all those guys depart, so many close friends, good teammates and not win a championship, and the urgency was there,” Prescott said. “But now as that’s turned over, realizing that I might blink and my career might be over with.

“The urgency is now. It’s now or never. It’s as simple as that. No sugarcoating it.”

Prescott and Elliott played six postseason games together, but won only two and never got beyond the divisional round. Prescott was asked whether the change is “bittersweet.”

“It’s tough to say it’s sweet right now,” Prescott said. “I know the sweet is coming. I’m a very optimistic guy, don’t get me wrong. Change is good. I’ve always said that. It’s tough for me to see it in this moment. But I know it’s coming. And I’m excited for when it does.”

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