Cowboys general counsel Jason Cohen has submitted a declaration (an affidavit signed without official notarization, routinely used in federal court) that both explains the harm the team will suffer due to a suspension of Elliott and directly supports the claim that an effort existed to conceal the opinions of Director of Investigations Kia Roberts from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Mr. Elliott’s six-game suspension will cause the Cowboys irreparable harm,” Cohen states at paragraph No. 6 of his declaration. “Mr. Elliott is the starting running back for the team and one of the best players in the NFL. He fulfills a critical role on our team — both as a leader and a player. In addition to missing six games (nearly half of the NFL season), he will not be permitted to practice with the team leading up to the games for which his suspension is in effect. Every practice and every game that Mr. Elliott misses will hurt our team’s chances of having a successful season and making it to the 2017-18 NFL playoffs and hopefully the Super Bowl. And Mr. Elliott’s missing practices and games at the beginning of the season will be very disruptive and affect our team’s performance even after he returns.”
The term “irreparable harm” has particular significance in this setting; it’s one of the key factors to be considered when determining whether to prevent the league from suspending Elliott while the litigation proceeds.
But it’s one thing for the Cowboys to support Elliott and, in turn, themselves. It’s another to take a direct shot at the operations of the league office.
Cohen, who says he observed the testimony of Roberts and NFL Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel at the Elliott appeal hearing, bolsters the notion that something highly irregular was happening.
“Ms. Roberts testified that she was the only person to interview Mr. Elliott’s accuser and all other witnesses in the investigation,” Cohen explains at paragraph 4. “She testified that she had credibility concerns about the accuser, and that her view was that there was insufficient corroborating evidence to proceed with discipline. Ms. Roberts testified that she was not invited to communicate her views directly to Commissioner Goodell or to the four advisors from whom he sought guidance regarding this case.”
Here’s the kicker, from paragraph 5: “Ms. Friel testified that Ms. Roberts was not invited to a meeting with Commissioner Goodell at which Ms. Friel and other NFL executives discussed the case with him. Ms. Friel also testified that Ms. Roberts was not invited to a meeting with the four advisors who were engaged by the NFL to consult with the Commissioner on this matter.”
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart disputed during a phone interview on Friday with PFT the claim that Goodell did not know about Roberts’ misgivings. Lockhart said Goodell was aware of her concerns, and Lockhart explained that Roberts was not present for the meeting with the four advisors because the purpose of that meeting was to get information from Elliott, not from league investigators.
Regardless, the use of the term “invited” by Cohen implies that Roberts’ omission wasn’t inadvertent but deliberate. And the deliberate decision of the Cowboys to submit evidence that tends to support the allegation of a conspiracy to hide Roberts’ opinions introduces a level of intrigue to this situation that takes it beyond any of the recent controversies arising when the NFL targets a team or a player for discipline.
Put simply, in the dispute regarding whether Roberts was kept out of the loop in order to make it easier to secure an Elliott suspension, the team owned by Jerry Jones has gone on the record to support Elliott’s position — and to undermine the league’s.