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Ezekiel Elliott is still facing potential discipline

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The NFL is making a poor decision by allowing the investigation of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott to linger for so long.

Unless and until the NFL officially clears Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott to cap an investigation dating back to July of 2016, the possibility remains that he’ll be punished under the Personal Conduct Policy. At a time when many believe it’s simply a matter of time before the league finds the right opportunity to leak to one of its in-house reporters and/or to announce generally that Elliott will face no discipline, it’s important to remember that, despite optimism from the likes of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Elliott could still be suspended.

"[T]his is a situation that has gone back and forth so many times,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently said during an appearance on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, via SportingNews.com. “I’ve spoken to some people within the league who, during the course of the offseason, got a sense that some form of discipline could happen. And then I spoke to somebody last week and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think anything is going to happen here.’ And then a decision that many people thought would come before the start of the the July Fourth weekend on Friday when the NFL usually makes a lot of decisions, hands down some news, I was told that was being pushed back.

“Now why is that being pushed back? Was it being pushed back, actually? Maybe it wasn’t even. But I was told there wasn’t going to be an answer here for a little while, that there was more information. There have been more meetings between either Zeke’s people and the league, or the NFLPA and the league, or whoever. It’s just been an ongoing issue that has had no conclusion. And so, if you’re drafting [fantasy football players] today, it’s hard to say, ‘Well, nothing’s going to happen there.’

“Nothing may well happen there, but something could happen there. We just don’t know right now. It’s just sort of out there.”

It can’t be “just sort of out there” for much longer, if there’s a chance of discipline that will give Elliott a fair chance to get the case resolved before the start of the regular season. If there will be a suspension, the sooner Elliott gets a chance to challenge it, the better.

In the absence of clarity or transparency, it’s hard to know why this is taking so long. It could be that investigators are diligently working toward resolving what amounts to a dispute between Elliott and his accuser as to what he did and didn’t do. It could be that whoever will be making the decision within the walls of 345 Park Avenue is having a hard time navigating strong pressure from one of the most powerful owners in the sport and delicate P.R. considerations that compel vigilance and stringency, especially if Elliott’s accuser decides that her failed effort to get satisfaction either in the criminal justice system or in the Court of Roger Goodell will culminate in a public effort to tell her story -- a story that could be deemed credible, making the league’s decision to not take action against Elliott seem incredible.

At the heart of the situation could be (emphasis: could be) a behind-the-scenes effort by the league to broker a settlement of all potential civil claims that the accuser could make in court, which would provide a real and legitimate platform for her story to be told. This would allow the league to close the book on Elliott without fear of a subsequent effort by the accuser to make the league look bad for giving him a pass.

However it plays out, the reduced standard of proof combined with an accuser who surely insists something happened and a player who insists the opposite makes it a tough case for the league to create. It won’t get any easier with the passage of time -- unless Elliott and the accuser reach a financial settlement that allows for everything to be wrapped up in one fell swoop.