Ezekiel Elliot

Elliott's six-game suspension begins, as appeals court sets aside injunction

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Elliott's six-game suspension begins, as appeals court sets aside injunction

A federal appeals court cleared the way Thursday for the NFL to impose a six-game suspension on Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott over domestic violence allegations, siding with the league in the latest high-profile fight over its ability to punish players for off-field behavior.

In a 2-1 decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans granted the league's emergency request to set aside an injunction and ordered a district court in Texas to dismiss Elliott's case.

The NFL announced that the suspension was effective immediately, though further appeals were possible and the Cowboys are not playing this weekend.

"We are currently exploring all of our legal options and will make a decision as to what is the best course of action in the next few days," Elliott attorney Frank Salzano said.

The Cowboys don't play again until next Sunday, Oct. 22, at San Francisco. If Elliott's legal team can't put the suspension on hold again, he won't be eligible to play until Nov. 30 at home against Washington, a Thursday night game the week after Thanksgiving. Elliott played the first five games as Dallas went 2-3 in a disappointing start.

A federal judge in Texas issued the injunction blocking the suspension last month, agreeing with NFL players' union attorneys who argued that the investigation of the allegations in Ohio and a subsequent appeal were unfair to Elliott, one of the league's standout running backs.

The NFL countered that it followed procedures under the league's labor deal and that the union improperly filed a lawsuit before the appeals process was complete.

The most likely destination for further legal challenges from players' union attorneys representing Elliott is with the Southern District of New York. The NFL filed in that federal court after Elliott's appeal through the league was denied by arbitrator Harold Henderson last month.

Last year's NFL rushing leader as a rookie, Elliott was suspended in August by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time.

Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence.

Elliott's legal team filed the lawsuit on his behalf in the Eastern District of Texas before Henderson had rejected the appeal. The 5th Circuit agreed with the NFL's claim that the filing was premature.

"The procedures provided for in the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA were not exhausted," Judges Jennifer Elrod and Edward Prado wrote for the majority. "The parties contracted to have an arbitrator make a final decision. That decision had not yet been issued."

In dissent, Judge James Graves disagreed that the suit was filed prematurely. Graves noted the union's argument that the league had violated the collective bargaining agreement because key information had been withheld from Goodell and Elliott's representatives before the suspension was ordered and the arbitrator's decision was based on incomplete information. The suit was properly filed in the district court because the arbitration process called for in the labor deal was not properly followed, Graves argued.

The NFL had already agreed to let Elliott play in the opener before his request for an injunction was granted by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant in Sherman, north of Dallas. Henderson ruled against Elliott the same day Mazzant heard arguments over the injunction.

Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University Law School, noted that the opinion dealt only with jurisdictional issues and not the question of whether the NFL's appeals process was unfair to Elliott.

"This is certainly a significant setback," Feldman said. "But they still have a chance because this decision was not made on the merits of the case. He has yet to have a federal court rule against him on the merits. Until that happens, he still has a chance."

Elliott, who set a Dallas rookie franchise record with 1,631 yards rushing last season, is fourth in the NFL with 393 yards this year. He had a season-high 116 yards in a 35-31 loss to Green Bay on Sunday.

If the case shifts to federal court in New York, home to league headquarters and the site of Elliott's appeal hearing with Henderson, the venue is a familiar one. The NFL won the "Deflategate" decision in the New York court, leading to New England quarterback Tom Brady serving his four-game suspension a year after it was originally imposed. A federal judge had put Brady's suspension on hold.

Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

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Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

Tom Brady has racked up some impressive numbers over eight games, but are they enough to surpass Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott or Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the MVP race?

The Patriots have gone 7-1 since Brady returned from his four-game suspension to start the year, and the league's all-time winningest quarterback has completed 68.9 percent of his passes in that stretch (third in the league) for 2,470 yards. He has 19 touchdowns, he's been picked once, and he is averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (third), giving him a 113.1 quarterback rating (first). 

According to Bovada, he's currently the third-best bet to win MVP at 15/2, down from 4/1 last week. Ahead of him? Both Elliott (12/5) and Carr (7/2). 

The Carr comparison is an interesting one for obvious reasons. Because they play the same position, it's easier to match up their stats. In 12 games, Carr has completed 65.5 percent of his passes (12th) for 3,375 yards (fourth), 24 touchdowns (seventh) and five interceptions. He's averaging 7.4 yards per attempt (15th), and  he has a rating of 100.3 (seventh).

While Carr has the statistical advantage of playing in four more games than Brady has, he's also led his team to a record of 10-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC at the moment. (The Raiders hold the strength-of-victory tiebreaker edge over the Patriots, who are also 10-2.)

Meanwhile, Elliott, the talented rookie out of Ohio State who has the benefit of running behind arguably the league's best offensive line, has racked up 263 carries for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He's also posted 28 catches for 322 yards and a score. He leads the league in total rush yards, he's second in the league in rushing touchdowns behind Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, and he's fourth in yards per attempt (4.9).