NFL moving quickly to reverse halt on Ezekiel Elliott's 6-game ban

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NFL moving quickly to reverse halt on Ezekiel Elliott's 6-game ban

FRISCO, Texas -- The NFL moved quickly Monday in hopes of reversing a federal judge's decision that has blocked the league's six-game suspension of star Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott over a domestic violence case in Ohio.

The league asked the judge who ruled in Elliott's favor to stop the preliminary injunction that cleared last year's NFL rushing leader to play while the case is in court. A notice of appeal was also filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The NFL's latest filings came about 12 hours after Elliott rushed for 104 yards in the Cowboys' 19-3 season-opening win over the New York Giants at home Sunday night.

"Just relieved from the fact that I finally get a fair trial," Elliott said after the game in his first public comments since before the Cowboys reported for training camp in July. "I finally get a chance to prove my innocence. And I'm just happy I'm able to be with these guys for as long as it's permitted and just not having to miss time and not being away from them."

The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell last month, and attorneys with the NFL Players' Association contended in a lawsuit that Elliott didn't get a fair hearing in an appeal that was denied.

Elliott had already been cleared to play in the season opener when U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant granted a temporary restraining order and injunction blocking the suspension Friday.

The case could play out for months.

New England quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension over "Deflategate" was delayed by a year when a federal judge ruled in his favor. Brady served the suspension to start last season after an appeals court reversed the ruling and backed Goodell's authority to suspend him.

If Mazzant denies the emergency request to put his own ruling on hold pending further hearings, the NFL could make a similar argument to the appeals court in hopes of getting a hearing within days after Mazzant decides.

Without an NFL win on an emergency request in either court, the timeline likely would clear Elliott to play his entire second season after he led the league in rushing as a rookie.

The case apparently will stay in the Texas court for at least a week after Mazzant gave Elliott's side until Wednesday to respond to the NFL's request for a stay. The NFL would then have until Friday to respond to arguments from Elliott's legal team before Mazzant rules on the motion, presumably next week.

"It may be difficult for the NFL to convince the 5th Circuit that this is truly an emergency," said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University Law School. "The argument here is that the NFL could later enforce the suspension."

Elliott was suspended by Goodell in August after the league concluded he had several physical confrontations last summer with Tiffany Thompson, a former girlfriend. Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided about a year ago not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence.

The NFL kept its investigation open, and said its conclusions were based on photographs, text messages and other electronic evidence. The league has argued that it acted within the parameters of a labor agreement that gives Goodell broad authority to suspend players. The league also said the appeal process was consistent with its personal conduct policy.

"As far as the argument to the court of appeals, we think the scope and review in labor arbitration is very limited and we believe the judge went well beyond what is permitted as far as scope," NFL vice president of communications Joe Lockhart said.

Mazzant's ruling took aim at appeal hearing officer Harold Henderson and the NFL, saying decisions not to allow Goodell and Thompson to testify at the appeal were among several factors unfair to Elliott. The running back denied the allegations under oath during the appeal.

The judge also faulted the league for what he saw as several efforts to conceal the opinion of co-lead investigator Kia Roberts. She testified at the appeal that she didn't think Thompson was credible and didn't support any punishment for Elliott.

Three years ago, the NFL stiffened penalties in domestic violence cases after getting sharply criticized for its handling of former Baltimore running back Ray Rice.

Elliott had 1,631 yards rushing last season, helping Dallas to the best record in the NFC at 13-3. He had another 36 yards receiving in the opener against the Giants as the Cowboys beat the NFC East rival that swept them last season.

LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

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LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

A big piece of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl season is moving on. 

Running LeGarrette Blount has signed with the Detroit Lions. Blount's deal will be for one-year, $4.5 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

Blount, 31, was scheduled to visit the Lions on Friday and he didn’t leave without a new deal. He’ll reunite with Lions head coach Matt Patricia, who was the defensive coordinator in New England when Blount was there; the familiarity probably helped. 

Last offseason, Blount took his time deciding where he’d land. He didn’t sign with the Eagles until May and his contract was worth around $1 million. He apparently showed enough during 2017 to get a bigger deal this time around. 

After beginning the season as the Eagles’ primary runner, he eventually saw his role diminish after the Birds added Jay Ajayi through a trade. Still, Blount played in all 16 games and rushed for 766 yards during the regular season. More importantly, he had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. Blount had a rushing touchdown in all three playoff games after having just two during the regular season. 

Perhaps more important than his contributions on the field, it was Blount’s unselfish nature that seemed to rub off on his teammates. When he and Alshon Jeffery were on board with that unselfish mindset, it seemed like the rest of the team followed. 

As recently as late February, Blount indicated he wanted to return to Philadelphia, where he really seemed to fit in the locker room and under running backs coach Duce Staley, whom Blount clearly respects. 

"Obviously I like it a lot there,” Blount said in February on NFL Network. “They like me a lot there. It's a mutual respect and a mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. Obviously, you guys know how I feel about the team, the guys; I love those guys.”

While Blount said he wanted to return to Philly, it was unlikely the Eagles could have (or would have) offered him the type of contract he’s getting from the Lions. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles still have Ajayi and Corey Clement under contract from last season. Kenjon Barner is a free agent. The running back position still seems up in the air, but the Eagles have a few months and a draft to figure it out. 

Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

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Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

Back in early 2016, just after Howie Roseman had been reinstated to his post of power, he pulled out some moves from the classic Joe Banner playbook. 

He tried to find value in projection. 

Within a nine-day span in early 2016, the Eagles signed Vinny Curry, Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson to lucrative five-year extensions. Since then, Ertz and Johnson have grown into Pro Bowl players, rendering their contracts relative bargains. 

Curry simply remained a good player, which is why he was cut on Friday afternoon

While Curry finally became a starter in 2017, he had just three sacks and the team drafted Derek Barnett and traded for Michael Bennett who was cheaper and better. It’s certainly not really a knock on Curry, who had his best professional season during the Eagles’ Super Bowl year. 

When Curry signed his five-year, $47.25 million extension in February 2016, he was just two years removed from his nine-sack season and was seen as a much better fit in the 4-3 scheme Jim Schwartz was bringing to town. So the Eagles paid Curry like he was going to play at a Pro Bowl level and it never happened. In that first year, the Eagles tried to peg him in as a starter opposite of Connor Barwin, but Brandon Graham outplayed him. After Barwin was gone, Curry became a starter, but was just good; not great. 

Meanwhile, the two other big contracts handed to Ertz and Johnson have clearly worked out. Cutting Curry really speaks more to the nature of NFL contracts these days than it does to the level of his play. 

Sure, Curry never played to the level of his contract, but the deals for Ertz and Johnson look much better. And unlike Curry, both of them had one year left on their rookie deals when the Eagles tried to gain value in re-signing them early. It’s worked out. 

Ertz was the first of the three to sign his five-year extension. His was worth $42.5 million and as a Pro Bowler in 2017, he’s beginning to outplay it. He’s now the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league and he’ll continue to drop on that list as he plays out the next four years of that deal. The best part of Ertz’s contract is it wasn’t heavily backloaded, which has allowed the Eagles to restructure with him the last two offseasons to create some cap room. 

The second of the three big five-year extensions based on projections went to Lane Johnson. His deal was worth $56.25 million. Of course, Johnson’s suspension in 2016 was tough, but he rebounded to have an incredible 2017. He’s the highest-paid right tackle in football, but he’s 10th among all offensive tackles, which is a good value. 

Twenty days after Curry signed his deal, Malcolm Jenkins also got a five-year deal, but at that point he had already been a Pro Bowler, so his deal was more based off of production than projection. 

During that entire offseason, every single time Roseman was asked about the moves he made that offseason, he continually said the most important ones were the moves they made to keep their own players. That obviously included the projection deals for Curry, Johnson and Ertz. 

Sure, only two of the three ended up being bargains with tenable contracts. But even Curry was useful during the two years he played of his extension before the Eagles took the out they built into the deal. That’s not a bad hit rate.