Two years ago, it was clear that the NFL and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady never would resolve the litigation arising from Brady’s four-game suspension. With Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott scoring a win in court on Friday, could the league and Elliott work things out?
In Brady’s case, the player was never going to accept an outcome that included any suspension, and the league was never going to accept an outcome that didn’t include a suspension. With Elliott, perhaps there could be a middle ground.
That’s not to say Elliott would take the literal middle ground of a three-game suspension. But how about a one- or two-game suspension for pulling down the woman’s top at the St. Patrick’s Day parade? While the league didn’t discipline him for that, the incident was mentioned in the letter informing Elliott of his six-game suspension. Also, there’s no way anyone can dispute that it happened, since it’s on video.
The bigger question is whether the league would agree to any reduction at all, given: (1) the league’s history of stridence when it comes to matters of this nature; and (2) the league’s history of prevailing on appeal when it comes to lawsuits of this nature, which will serve only to increase the stridence. The NFL likely also remains concerned about a Ray Rice-style reaction to the perception that it went too easy on a domestic abuser.
Right or wrong, the league concluded that Elliott committed domestic violence. Reducing the suspension without an admission from Elliott that he committed domestic violence would create a potential P.R. problem for the league, creating the impression that it was too soft on domestic abuse. If, in turn, the league admits that it botched the investigation and disciplinary process, that won’t be good for business, either.
So even if Elliott were willing to accept a suspension for something other than domestic abuse, the league may have no good way out of the corner into which it has painted itself. Which means that the league’s only choice may be to wait in that corner for a lifeline from an appeals court.