Although the Commissioner apparently gave everyone at the league office the week off, the boss showed up on Tuesday, for one apparent purpose: To scare Ezekiel Elliott.
That’s the only logical interpretation of Roger Goodell’s decision to summon Zeke to 345 Park Avenue two days before the Fourth of July. Usually, a trip to the principal’s office results at least in a brief period of detention. Elliott got only a stern talking to, stern enough to get him to rush to social media with the kind of heartfelt apology aimed at showing that he gets it, even if he doesn’t.
He’d better get it going forward, or he’s going to get it.
That’s the only way to look at this. Goodell essentially has placed Elliott on double-secret probation, with one more false move resulting in a serious punishment. How serious it would be remains to be seen; the better course for Elliott would be to not test Goodell.
The Commissioner easily could have suspended Elliott again. His menacing interaction of a 19-year-old security guard easily could have been pigeonholed into one or more of the various Personal Conduct Policy bullet points. (Assault, for example, can happen without battery, and assault is one of the prohibited activities under the policy.) Throw in the fact that Elliott would be regarded as a repeat offender, and a multi-game suspension would have been no surprise.
The surprise continues to be the subtle shift that Goodell has undertaken from The Enforcer to something more magnanimous. Goodell seems to be more inclined to cooperate with players who have chronically violated the substance-abuse policy, and he also seems to be less inclined to punish under the Personal Conduct Policy players who haven’t been arrested or charged.
As noted after last year’s bungling of the Kareem Hunt case, it’s possible that the league overcorrected following the 2017 suspension of Elliott, which resulted from both a Keystone Cops investigation and a kangaroo court internal proceeding — and which sparked an attempt by Jerry Jones to jettison Goodell. The league may still be following that course correction, confident in Elliott’s latest case that (unlike in Hunt’s situation) there’s nothing else that could come out that would make Goodell look foolish for not suspending Elliott.
Elliott likely won’t be so lucky if he makes Goodell look foolish for giving Elliott another chance. And that’s the bottom line: If Elliott crosses the line or even gets close to it one more time, no one can say that Goodell rushed to judgment. Because, despite his tendencies of the not-too-distant past, Goodell no longer looks for knee-jerk reasons to flex his muscles by preventing talented players from using theirs on the football field.