A federal appeals court denied a request by the NFL Players Association to keep Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension on hold, a development that potentially clears the way for the NFL to enforce its six-game ban of the standout running back for the Dallas Cowboys. The suspension would start with Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, pending yet another appeal.
The ruling was made Thursday by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The judges heard oral arguments by the NFL and NFLPA earlier Thursday.
The union was appealing a decision by a federal judge in New York to reject the NFLPA’s request for a preliminary injunction on Elliott’s behalf.
Elliott and the NFLPA next can appeal to the full appeals court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, if they choose.
The NFL confirmed soon after the ruling that it considers Elliott’s suspension now in effect but declined to further comment. The NFLPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the suspension stands, Elliott would miss Sunday’s game against the Falcons and the Cowboys’ subsequent games against the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Redskins, New York Giants and Oakland Raiders. He next would be eligible to play in a Dec. 24 game at home against the Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys’ next-to-last game of the regular season.
The ruling was made by Circuit Judges Dennis Jacobs, Debra Ann Livingston and Christopher F. Droney.
“Upon due consideration, it is hereby ordered that the Appellant’s motion for an injunction pending appeal is denied because the Appellant has failed to meet the requisite standard,” the court wrote in its order.
The appeals court judges did rule that Elliott’s appeal of the injunction decision will be heard on an expedited basis; that appeal is scheduled to be heard Dec. 1. But they rejected the NFLPA’s argument that Elliott would suffer irreparable harm if forced to sit out games while the case proceeds in court.
The Cowboys play four games before Dec. 1.
The NFL has been prevented all season, via the courtroom maneuvering, 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 on Elliott’s behalf. That was overturned by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, which ruled that the district court in Texas lacked proper jurisdiction because the union filed its case there before NFL-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson resolved Elliott’s appeal under the sport’s collective bargaining agreement.
The case shifted to New York, where the league had filed a lawsuit seeking to have Henderson’s ruling affirmed. Henderson upheld the suspension imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
A federal judge in New York granted Elliott and the NFLPA a temporary restraining order. But that expired when U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla denied the union’s request for a preliminary injunction for Elliott. Elliott was able to play last Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs under an administrative stay of Failla’s ruling. But that stay was pending Thursday’s hearing and ruling by the appeals court judges, who terminated the stay and rejected an injunction.
The NFLPA has argued that the league’s deliberations leading to Elliott’s suspension were flawed and that he did not receive a fair appeal hearing before Henderson, a former labor executive for the league, in part because Goodell and Elliott’s accuser in a domestic violence case were not ordered to testify.
The league has maintained that its procedures were fair and in compliance with the CBA and the personal conduct policy.
The NFL determined after a lengthy investigation that Elliott was guilty of domestic violence in a series of incidents last year in Ohio involving his former girlfriend. Elliott was not charged with a crime by authorities in Columbus, Ohio. The personal conduct policy allows the league to take disciplinary action even when a player is not charged with a crime, however.
The outcome of the Elliott case, at least for now, serves to further cement Goodell’s authority in matters of player discipline under the CBA, just as the NFLPA’s ultimately failed challenge in federal court of Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension did. Brady played the entire 2015 season after a judge overturned the four-game suspension of the New England Patriots quarterback. But Brady sat out the first four games of last season after the NFL prevailed on appeal. The Brady case also played out in New York, serving as a precedent for what happened in the Elliott case.
The Cowboys have a record of 5-3. They are 2½ games behind the first-place Eagles in the NFC East but in the thick of the chase for a wild-card spot. They plan to divide playing time and carries among backup running backs Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith in Elliott’s absence. Elliott led the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie and ranks second this season, behind Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt, entering this weekend’s play.
Elliott’s suspension is without pay and would cost him just over $559,192, or six-seventeenths of his 2017 salary of $1,584,379.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said he believes the league has treated Elliott unfairly. Jones has threatened to fellow owners to take legal action to try to block Goodell’s pending contract extension. Other owners attribute Jones’s actions to his anger over Elliott’s suspension, although Jones’s associates say the two are not related and Jones merely is acting on his long-held belief that owners have overpaid Goodell and all owners should be involved in negotiating the commissioner’s contract. The NFL and several others within the league say they expect Goodell’s five-year extension through 2024 to be completed in the coming months despite Jones’s threat of legal action.
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