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If the Cowboys want to win now, they should take Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4

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The Cowboys shouldn't draft a QB at No. 4 (1:05)

ESPN NFL senior writer John Clayton breaks down why Dallas should avoid selecting a quarterback at No. 4 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. (1:05)

FRISCO, Texas -- Tony Romo has averaged fewer than 30 passes per game once in 10 seasons as a starter. It turned out to be the best season of his career.

Romo, who averaged 29 passes a game in 2014, threw for more than 3,700 yards with 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Dallas Cowboys won 12 games, the NFC East and a playoff game.

In his career, Romo has compiled some gaudy numbers for sure, but the Cowboys' dirty little secret is the more he throws the less they win.

The Cowboys are 37-11 when Romo throws fewer than 30 passes in a game, 41-38 when he throws more than 30 passes.

DeMarco Murray was the epicenter of the Cowboys' offense in 2014 as he established single-season franchise records with 1,845 yards on 392 carries. Leaning on Murray and three Pro Bowl offensive linemen in their mid-20s took pressure off Romo.

He could pick and choose when to attack instead of being forced to carry the entire load on offense. The result: He averaged a league-leading 8.5 yards per attempt because teams had to commit an eighth defender to stop the run, which meant single coverage for Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams or Jason Witten.

So don't be mad if the Cowboys decide that drafting Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott in the first round gives them the best chance to win right now, especially since Jerry Jones seems to believe Romo will play forever.

In today's NFL, Elliott will be the rare three-down runner who never leaves the field. He can run, block and catch.

Trent Richardson's failure as the third pick in the 2012 draft shouldn't affect the Cowboys' decision-making on Elliott any more than Jamarcus Russell's failures would dissuade them from taking a quarterback with the fourth pick.

We all understand drafting is an inexact science. Guarantees don't exist.

In 2014, the Cowboys went 10-0 when Romo threw no more than 30 passes, and they went 10-2 when Murray gained 100 yards. Darren McFadden, above average at best, gained 1,089 yards and finished fourth in the NFL in rushing last season -- and he did it without the game-changing speed he once had.

Murray dominated the NFL two years ago with one of the best seasons in league history. Put Elliott behind the Cowboys' line, which sent tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick to the Pro Bowl last season, and he could challenge Eric Dickerson's 32-year-old rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards.

That's not hyperbole the way playcaller Scott Linehan has shown he likes to feed the ball to one runner.

Elliott's presence would also help protect Romo, who has had two back surgeries and has broken his collarbone twice. He's brittle these days, whether the Cowboys choose to admit it or not.

What else can you say about a quarterback who doesn't practice on Wednesdays to make sure his back is good for Sundays, and who has fans nervously fidgeting in their seats every time he gets hit until he trots back to the huddle?

Every time Romo drops back to pass, he's exposed to the kind of hits that could end his season -- or his career. An elite quarterback is the NFL's most precious commodity and a franchise like the Cowboys that doesn;t have a proven backup must do everything it can to protect its starting quarterback.

Elliott would also help the defense.

The Cowboys have built their team to be Romo-friendly, which means investing three No. 1 picks in the offensive line to protect him. It means spending first- and third-round picks on receivers Bryant and Williams.

The priority in Dallas has always been offense while cobbling together a defense. One or two players aren't going to turn this unit into Doomsday III. The best way to help the Cowboys' defense is to keep it off the field.

Run the ball, grind the clock and use play-action passes to create big plays in the passing game. Use the offense to get ahead early and then let the defense attack offenses that must use a one-dimensional approach because the offense created early separation.

This is the formula the Cowboys used in 2003, Bill Parcells' first season, when they finished fourth in time of possession (32:34) as quarterback Quincy Carter and running back Troy Hambrick led them to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth after three straight 5-11 seasons.

Heck, it's the formula the Cowboys used in 2014, when they finished second in time of possession (32:22) and fifth in points scored (29.2).

And it's the best way to take advantage of Romo's last few seasons. Elliott can help him do that.