In theory, the lawyers representing Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott could have tried to pull one last rabbit out of the hat, in an effort to help Elliott get back to the field as quickly as possible while the litigation regarding his six-game suspension continues. By all appearances, Elliott will be accepting the suspension, at least through the next hearing in his case, which is set for December 1.
It means that Elliott will miss at least the next four games, since the Cowboys play not on Sunday, December 3 but on Thursday, November 30. It will mean something far more important, if Elliott eventually wins his case.
If Elliott eventually wins his case, it will mean that Elliott will have been wrongfully denied the chance to play in at least four games, with no way to fix it. Which considerably raises the stakes for the NFL in the ongoing litigation, since a win by Elliott will make the league look even more heavy-handed and unfair.
Take a step back and consider how these disciplinary cases work. The NFL issues a suspension. Then, the NFL allows the player to keep playing which he appeals the suspension. Indeed, the NFL never forces a player to miss games before his internal appeal rights have been exhausted.
But once the internal appeal rights are exhausted, the NFL vehemently refuses to respect the possibility that the player may have viable external appeal rights. Which, to use a technical term, if effin’ nutty.
The league could claim that it regards the external appeals process in the Elliott case as meritless or frivolous or whatever. But here’s the reality: THE NFL FILED THE CASE.
To put it another way, the league initiated the current external process that will resolve whether the suspension is valid, but the league refuses to let the player play while that process is pending.
The league could argue that it filed the lawsuit only because Elliott previously filed a lawsuit in Texas. But Elliott filed the lawsuit in Texas in part because he knew that the NFL would do exactly what it did in the Tom Brady case: Invoke an external process to validate the suspension, but also refuse to let the player play while the process unfolds.
Again, what’s the harm in letting the player play while it all gets worked out? It’s fair to the player, and it’s not unfair to the league. If the league eventually wins, Elliott will miss the six games in 2018.
The problem, of course, is that letting the player play after flagging him as a domestic abuser undermines the protect-the-shield P.R. objectives that drive the whole process of investigating and punishing players who have not been arrested or formally charged. So the NFL, for the same reasons it will reach a conclusion about a player without a fair and proper internal process, will suspend the player without giving him a fair and proper shot at challenging the fair and proper internal process externally.
Why this approach? It’s because the NFL realized in the Ray Rice case that anything other than shooting first and never asking questions later could jeopardize not only the shield, but also the $40 million-per-year sheriff who wears it.