The news of the NFL’s six-game suspension ruling for Ezekiel Elliott has dominated the headlines. The NFL has levied their penalty but to even suggest this is over would be naive on any account. This is far from over and in many ways, it may just be beginning.
Elliott and his representatives have maintained innocence throughout this process. Elliott’s representatives claim he has cooperated with not only the District Attorney’s office in Columbus, Ohio but also the NFL’s investigation. Phone records, as well as any other correspondence, were turned over in order to help this process conclude. In a statement from Elliott’s representatives, it’s clear that Elliott’s camp is willing to go as far as possible to exonerate their client:
Reaction to today's 6-game suspension for Ezekiel Elliott from his attorneys, Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum. pic.twitter.com/PFsQLvcME8— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 11, 2017
Before we break down Elliott’s representations statement, let’s look at what’s next. It begins with an appeal of the suspension.
Doling out a six-game suspension to Elliott lines up with the punishment the NFL has written in their code of conduct. An NFL spokesperson made public note of their intent:
“We’ve made significant progress in having the right people in the room. That didn’t happen in the Ray Rice case,” the person said, adding of the length of the Elliott investigation: “We felt very strongly it was important to get this right and be thorough and exhaustive.”
“As the Policy states, ‘[i]t is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.’”
Remember, violations of the conduct policy or behavior deemed “detrimental to the league” carry a large umbrella.
Roger Goodell wields a lot of power in the appeals process and will either carry out the hearing himself or bring in Harold Henderson, who has served as an arbitrator in the past. The ruling to either keep the suspension as is or reduce it is obligated to occur within 10 days of appeal. It’s easy to argue about the rules, but they are rules that every owner and the NFLPA agreed to in the negotiations some six years ago. With that defined, players have been successful in appealing their suspensions, a few examples:
Greg Hardy (2015)
Suspended 10 games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, Hardy appealed the decision on May 28 to independent arbitrator Harold Henderson. On July 10, Henderson trimmed the suspension for four games.
Adrian Peterson (2014)
He was successful in his appeal, as the indefinite suspension that was initially upheld by arbitrator Harold Henderson was overturned in U.S. District Court on Feb. 26, with Judge David Doty presiding. In all, Peterson missed six games from the suspension. The NFL officially reinstated Peterson on April 16.
BountyGate players (2012)
Jonathan Vilma (16 games), Anthony Hargrove (eight games), Will Smith (four games) and Scott Fujita (three games) all had their suspensions eliminated on appeal, with former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue the arbitrator. A three-person appeals panel found that commissioner Roger Goodell overstepped his authority.
Other guys have won their appeals too, like Ndamukong Suh, Brandon Browner, Brandon Meriweather, Ed Reed and others. Cowboys writer Mickey Spagnola claimed on Cowboys’ radio that the league will often over punish a player as good measure in the face of outside influences. If Elliott were to win his appeal, he could have that suspension reduced all the while the NFL could be perceived as strong in their commitment.
Now, that’s of course if Elliott’s camp decides to accept a reduction which by their statements seem to suggest they won’t. They are seeking ‘complete exoneration’ for Elliott:
"The NFL's findings are replete with factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions and it 'cherry picks' so called evidence to support its conclusion while ignoring other critical evidence.”
This statement supports the notion that Elliott’s team is going to take this as high as possible. Tom Brady was initially suspended to begin the 2015 season but the matter moved to federal court. The decision made by Judge Richard Berman vacated that suspension and Brady played all 16 games in 2015. After that season, the 2nd U.S. Circuit of Appeals reinstated the suspension; Brady was denied a rehearing and accepted the four-game suspension to start 2016.
The most interesting part is in the last paragraph from Elliott’s camp:
"For example, both the Columbus Prosecutor's office as well as the NFL investigators expressly concluded and conveyed to our office (and others) that the accuser was lying about an alleged July 22, 2016 incident whereby she accused Mr. Elliott of pulling her out of her car and assaulting her. An allegation that was ultimately undermined by her own friend's affidavit which stated that no such assault occurred. The affidavit also outlined the accuser's plan to orchestrate a story to police to in order to corroborate her false allegation of assault. In addition, the NFL's own medical experts concluded that many of her injuries predated the week in question and likely occurred during a period of time when Mr. Elliott was not in contact with the accuser. During the upcoming weeks and through the appeal a slew of additional credible and controverting evidence will come to light."
The last sentence, “additional credible and controverting evidence,” will be the key to Elliott’s appeals process but that “additional evidence” will likely demand the federal court setting for its debut.
This situation wasn’t completely resolved by the announcement yesterday morning. The Cowboys organization, the NFLPA, and, of course, Ezekiel Elliott’s representation, will all assuredly get involved, taking it to the highest possible court for adjudication. The only certainty is that this dispute is likely to be lengthy with many combustible elements.