Legal Battles

Ezekiel Elliott Faces Road Game and Legacy of Deflategate in New York Court

The Cowboys won the biggest game of their still young 2017 NFL season Sunday, beating the Redskins 33-19 in Maryland. The team now sits at 4-3, coming off its two best performances of the year as it heads into a vital three-game stretch.

After the Cowboys' victory against the Redskins, running back Ezekiel Elliott didn't fly home with his teammates. Instead, he'll head to New York, where he'll attend an injunction hearing in Manhattan Monday afternoon.

Against the 49ers and Redskins, Ezekiel Elliott totaled 297 rushing yards and five touchdowns, sparking the Cowboys' offense to score 73 points. Elliott's resurgence — he scored just two touchdowns and rushed for only 393 yards in the Cowboys' first five games —  kept quarterback Dak Prescott from having to carry the Cowboys offense by himself. Better ball control means less time on the field for the Cowboys defense, the team's weak link.

Despite these positive signs, the Cowboys season could grind to halt this week as Elliott faces a court hearing that will set the table for the club's last nine games. If Elliott loses in court, he'll be out until mid-December to serve a six-game suspension for domestic violence allegations made by his ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson.

Monday's hearing is essentially a rerun of the federal court hearing in Sherman on Sept. 5, which kicked off Elliott's lawsuit against the NFL, with a few key exceptions. This case will be heard in New York because the court threw out Elliott's Texas lawsuit for being filed prematurely, before the NFL made the final decision on his league appeal.

Elliott and his lawyers must confront the precedent established in Tom Brady's suit against the NFL over his "Deflategate" suspension, which gave wide deference to Roger Goodell's almost unlimited authority in making decisions about NFL discipline. This time around, Jeff Kessler, Elliott's lead attorney, will point to a door left open in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in the Brady case.

In its ruling, the court found that NFL vice president Jeff Pash was not an essential witness in the case, and it did not rule on whether Brady was denied a fundamentally fair process by the league. Elliott and Kessler believe that Thompson and Goodell, both excused from testifying at Elliott's league appeal hearing by NFL arbiter Harold Henderson, were important enough to the case that they should've been forced to testify and, therefore, the league's disciplinary process with regard to Elliott was fundamentally unfair.

Elliott told reporters Sunday night that he believes he won't miss any games this season. "We're confident in our argument," he said. "We're confident that I'll be on the field for the rest of the year."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the NFL has treated Elliott unfairly. "What is important is that he gets a fair shake," he said this weekend. "Zeke has in no way, by any standard in this country, done anything wrong. He's done nothing wrong."

Jones faulted the league's lack of preparedness. "We don't have the system in place for this, and we're trying to make one up in a few short months, and it's got too many ways to not be fair to a person like Zeke," he told the media.

Fairness is a key phrase. Elliot is arguing that he will be irreparably harmed should he be forced to sit out games and then eventually prevails against the league. Sometime this week, Judge Katherine Failla will decide if Elliott should be allowed to play while the court evaluates the arguments and pleadings that have piled up as the suit has moved from Texas to New York. If she gives Elliott his preliminary injunction, it is unlikely that the case will be resolved before the end of the 2017 season. That will leave the star running back to serve his potential suspension during the 2018 season.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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