It’s taken more than a year to get to the point where the NFL has an Ezekiel Elliott suspension locked and loaded. But the announcement, which could come at any moment, would in many ways not be the end but the beginning.
The letter communicating the suspension will explain Elliott’s appeal rights. He’ll have three business days to commence the process. If/when (when) he does, Commissioner Roger Goodell will have the ability to preside over the appeal personally, or to designate someone else to handle it.
Typically, the Commissioner personally handles one decision or the other, but not both. With Tom Brady‘s suspension, Goodell delegated the initial decision to Troy Vincent, and Goodell handled the appeal. With Greg Hardy’s suspension, Goodell issued the suspension and delegated the appeal to Harold Henderson (who reduced the suspension). With Ray Rice, Goodell issued the initial decision to suspend Rice indefinitely after the elevator video surfaced, and Goodell assigned the appeal to a truly independent arbitrator — whose decision to scrap the suspension means that Goodell likely won’t be doing that again.
After the appeal is finalized, Elliott will have the right to seek judicial intervention. Even if he eventually loses (and he likely would lose), he could potentially delay the suspension by obtaining a preliminary injunction blocking the suspension until the case is resolved. Brady did that two years ago. Several years before that, former Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams delayed a suspension in the Starcaps case for multiple seasons. (By the time the case ended, Pat Williams had retired.)
The NFL also could choose to do what it did in the Brady case — filing a lawsuit that seeks a declaration that the suspension is valid in a favorable forum before Elliott can file in a place where he’d be more likely to win. Two years ago, the league immediately filed suit in federal court in Manhattan after denying Brady’s appeal.
Although the league lost at the first level, the win in the appeals court makes the Southern District of New York an even more attractive option.
Bottom line — there’s still a chance that Elliott will possibly play all of the 2017 season, even if his internal appeal is resolved before Week One.