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The drip, drip, drip of the Ezekiel Elliott investigation continues to torment the Cowboys

With no resolution in sight, this continues to raise questions about the entire NFL disciplinary process.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
Only the NFL “process” seems a real threat to slow Zeke down.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For close to a year now, the NFL offices have been conducting an investigation into domestic violence allegations against the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Despite the case being closed with no charges brought by law enforcement agencies, and repeated assertions from Elliott’s camp that there was no valid basis for the claims, the NFL has kept the investigation open. With the start of training camp and then the regular season drawing ever closer, the potential of a suspension hangs over the player and the team. And with no real information or deadline from the league, that leaves a void that is too easily filled by rumor and speculation. Recently, ESPN’s Adam Schefter rushed in to fill that void.

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 4th 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 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."

The comments were delivered, a bit oddly, during a fantasy football discussion where Schefter expressed doubts about the wisdom of drafting Elliott because of the uncertainty about what was going to happen with the investigation. And it was reported by Jimmy Kempski on the PhillyVoice website. For those who aren’t familiar with Kempski, bad news about the Cowboys is truly mother’s milk to him. That does not affect what Schefter had to say, of course, but, context.

In any case, this is just another example of the continuing problems that surround the NFL’s arbitrary and opaque approach to discipline. After the widely covered problems the league has had with domestic violence issues, it is not terribly surprising that they are hesitant to close out an investigation prematurely. The heart of the matter is that they have not presented any real justification for keeping this one alive. If they have something to substantiate the claims made, they have apparently not shared it with anyone.

Elliott was one of the breakout stars of 2016, and it seems somewhat counterproductive to keep him and the Cowboys in limbo over this. If there is some evidence to justify taking action against him, why drag this out? Elliott would have a right to appeal any disciplinary action, but the longer the league waits, the less time he has for such appeal.

There comes a time in most investigations when a decision is made to proceed or not on the strength of the evidence. However, that is affected by the concept of due process, something that is tenuous at best for the NFL. The old saying “Justice delayed is justice denied” seems to apply here.

If Elliott did do something, then he should be punished. But if there was something tangible to substantiate the accusations, why has nothing been done? Is the league engaged in a long-term fishing expedition, just hoping to hook onto something? At this point, just how substantial would that be? The NFL does not have to obey any rules of evidence, but they are expected to at least explain any decision they make. And it would have to be comply with the current collective bargaining agreement. Every day that the league drags this out, the more doubt accrues as to just what they have, and what their motivations really are.

Losing Elliott for any amount of time would have far more impact on the Cowboys than the recently upheld suspension of David Irving, or the still pending action against Nolan Carroll, or the coming legal hearing for Jourdan Lewis. Elliott is the linchpin of the Dallas offense. While Darren McFadden is a solid backup, Elliott is a truly elite running back in all phases of the game. Any games he misses would be challenging.

And the team is effectively penalized by every day a decision is delayed. If some kind of suspension would be handed down, they would need to plan for how to work around it. The later such a decision is made, the less time they have to do so.

There is nothing wrong with trying to properly address the issue of domestic violence, but there has to be an element of fairness. Any allegation has to be substantiated. Otherwise, players could be harmed by false and vindictive claims. That is precisely how Elliott’s representatives are framing his situation.

We will never know exactly what really happened, but the NFL has to have some standards of proof before they suspend a player and take money away from him, and put teams in a bad situation on the field. All indications are that the league is failing in this with Elliott and the Cowboys. The NFL needs to fish or cut bait here. This has gone on far too long already.

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