This post was updated at 10:26 a.m.
Just as the Dallas Cowboys were prepared to begin life without Ezekiel Elliott for six games, albeit reluctantly, the second-year running back received another legal reprieve. For a third time, a federal court intervened to keep Elliott eligible to play for the Cowboys.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Friday granted the NFL Players Association’s request to keep Elliott’s suspension by the NFL on hold pending the union’s appeal on Elliott’s behalf of a judge’s ruling Monday.
The development clears the way for Elliott to play in the Cowboys’ game at home Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The NFLPA’s appeal is to be heard by a three-judge panel of the appeals court. U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla on Monday denied the union’s request for a preliminary injunction on Elliott’s behalf.
The on-again, off-again suspension is off again for the third time. The NFL has been prevented all season from enforcing its six-game suspension of Elliott under the personal conduct policy.
A federal judge in Texas granted the NFLPA’s request for a preliminary injunction for Elliott. That was overturned by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, which ruled that the district court in Texas did not have proper jurisdiction because the union filed its lawsuit before Elliott’s appeal was resolved by NFL-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson.
The case shifted to New York, where the league had filed a lawsuit seeking to affirm Henderson’s ruling upholding the suspension. A judge granted Elliott and the NLFPA a temporary restraining order, which remained in effect until Monday’s ruling by Failla.
The union is appealing that ruling by Failla denying an injunction, and Friday’s development came in response to the NFLPA’s request for an emergency injunction pending that appeal and an administrative stay of Failla’s decision to permit Elliott to play Sunday.
The Cowboys have a record of 4-3 and Elliott has been extremely productive recently, totaling 413 rushing yards in the team’s past three games. He ran for 150 yards in last Sunday’s 33-19 triumph over the Washington Redskins in the rain and wind at FedEx Field.
Elliott attended the hearing Monday in New York and was not with the Cowboys this week. Coach Jason Garrett said at a news conference Wednesday that he had not, at that point, spoken to Elliott since immediately following the game at Washington. The Cowboys spent the week preparing to split time and carries at running back between Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith.
“We have great confidence in the guys that are gonna play in his place,” Garrett said Wednesday. “Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden and Rod Smith will all get opportunities to carry the football for us in different situations …. They’ve had success in this league. Obviously Alfred is somebody that has been productive as a runner in this league. Darren was very productive for us a couple years ago. And we feel really good about Rod Smith and how he’s developed and the role that he can play for us. All those guys will play and we’ll just keep going down the road.”
If Elliott’s suspension had remained in effect this week, he would have missed Sunday’s game against the Chiefs and subsequent games against the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Redskins and New York Giants. He next would have been eligible to play in a Dec. 17 game at Oakland.
The risk that the Cowboys and Elliott now take is that, if the suspension stands but is delayed further, Elliott could miss games later in the season and even more important to the team. League officials have said that the NFL would enforce Elliott’s suspension during the postseason if necessary.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the Redskins game: “Zeke is critical to our [team]. As you can see, he’s a valued member—member is almost trite to say. We need him.”
Around the League
Browns’ non-trade . . . Plenty has been said already about the Cleveland Browns’ botching of their near-trade Tuesday for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron. The deal was in place but the Browns failed to provide proper notification to the league by the 4 p.m. trade deadline, and the transaction was disallowed. Executives with other NFL teams are saying they consider the Browns’ actions inexcusable. “The coverup of blaming the league or the Bengals is only making it worse,” one said.
Former longtime Cowboys executive Gil Brandt wrote on Twitter: “Someone challenged me to say something positive about this Browns team. Honestly, I didn’t know how to answer.”
This week’s gaffe, which comes after the decisions to pass over Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the last two NFL drafts and amid the team’s 1-23 record since the start of last season, is said by some within the league to have incensed Browns ownership. There is a growing feeling among executives with other franchises that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam cannot allow this group of decision-makers to select the team’s next quarterback.
No suspension for Alonso . . . The NFL generally has made good and reasonable decisions this season in handing out suspensions to players for illegal hits. But the decision not to suspend Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso for his hit on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco during last week’s Thursday night game was odd. Yes, it can be argued that Alonso had committed to hitting Flacco before Flacco began to slide at the end of a run. But while NFL rules say that a quarterback can be hit under those circumstances, they also say that he cannot be hit in the head. That’s precisely what Alonso did, knocking Flacco from the game with a concussion. The hit was illegal and, frankly, egregious. It deserved an ejection. And when that didn’t happen, it merited a suspension, given the NFL competition committee’s recommendation that flagrant illegal hits should result this season in the offending player being ejected or suspended.
Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was reinstated conditionally by the NFL this week, last played in a regular season game on Dec. 21, 2014. With his suspensions and off-field issues, it’s easy to forget how great Gordon was in 2013. He played in only 14 games that year and had 1,646 receiving yards, the 13th-best single-season total in NFL history.
Buffalo’s general manager, Brandon Beane, said he considers wide receiver Anquan Boldin retired at this point. The Bills have Boldin on their reserve-retired list and don’t intend to release him because of wariness that he could sign with New England or Miami. The Bills did not deal Boldin by Tuesday’s leaguewide deadline after granting him permission to explore a trade.
Games to Watch
Broncos at Eagles . . . Brock Osweiler gets the start at quarterback and tries to save the Broncos’ season. Yes, it has come to that for Denver.
Chiefs at Cowboys . . . Elliott remains eligible to play but was not part of the Cowboys’ preparations during the week. Will that have an effect?
Games to Miss
Colts at Texans . . . Andrew Luck vs. Deshaun Watson? Nope. Jacoby Brissett vs. Tom Savage. No thanks.
Cardinals at 49ers . . . No Jimmy Garoppolo (yet) for the Niners. So no reason to pay attention.
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