As the NFL tries to pull the plug on the ruling that pulls the plug on the suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, the appeals court could be plugging in the process of giving the league a ruling as soon as next week.
Per a league source, the NFL believes that a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit staying the preliminary injunction blocking the suspension could happen by early next week. This would mean that Elliott, if the league wins, would begin to serve his six-game suspension as of Week Three (when the Cowboys facing the Cardinals on a Monday night), with the ability to continue to challenge the suspension in court. Though he’d be paid for the games he’d miss if successful, he’d likely miss the six games.
The NFL sees three potential scenarios, as the case progresses to the Fifth Circuit, viewing each as having reasonable prospects of occurring. First, the Fifth Circuit could quickly stay the injunction, having the suspension commence as soon as next week. Second, the Fifth Circuit could consider the appeal of the injunction on an expedited basis, which would delay the start of the suspension (if the NFL prevails on the appeal) deeper into the season. Third, the Fifth Circuit could consider the appeal in the normal course of business, which as a practical matter would allow Elliott to play for the full season, given the usual time frames for resolving cases on appeal.
The league sees the second option as a compromise, and thus as possibly a bit more likely than the other two. This would delay the suspension to a later point of the season, starting maybe a month from now or later. In theory, it could impact Elliott’s availability for the postseason.
The NFL’s overriding goal seems to be immediately putting in front of the appeals court not the question of whether the injunction is appropriate but whether the entire case is appropriate. The league believes that the Texas federal court lacks jurisdiction over the dispute, for multiple reasons: The NFL believes that Elliott filed the case too early, and that the case should be handled by a federal court in New York. With the Texas judge still considering that issue, the appeal of the injunction adroitly provides, as a practical matter, a way to get the issue of jurisdiction before the appeals court even before the Texas judge rules on that question.
However the legal process plays out, it’s clear that the NFL intends to push this issue aggressively, because the NFL believes that the Texas court lacks jurisdiction, and because the league believes it can achieve a slam-dunk victory if/when the case ends up out of Texas and in New York, where the outcome of the Tom Brady case would represent what the lawyers call “binding precedent,” mandating (in theory) the New York court to quickly affirm the suspension.