Although Harold Henderson, the arbitrator selected by Roger Goodell to hear Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal, is likely going to be expeditious in handing down his decision, it is almost certainly not going to be issued before this Saturday at 4 pm Eastern Time, when the Cowboys have to cut their roster to 53 or fewer players.
Zeke’s hearing started Tuesday, but will now stretch into Thursday to allow for additional witness testimony. This is largely driven by Zeke’s legal team doing everything in its power to improve the odds for a reduction of the suspension, and/or to set up the best possible grounds for an appeal to a court, even if both are only remote possibilities.
At the moment, Zeke’s suspension is not in effect while he exercises his appeal rights. And while that’s the case, Zeke counts against the Cowboys’ roster numbers. So Dallas is almost certainly going to have to cut someone, at least temporarily, until Harold Henderson issues his ruling. If the NFL and/or Zeke rush to court on an appeal of Henderson’s ruling and Zeke’s team is able to get a stay of the suspension while the court case is heard, Zeke will still count against the Cowboys 53-man roster.
If all of that takes place, who are the likely candidates to get cut? Ideally, the Cowboys might look to someone they were going to cut anyway, or someone unlikely to get signed by another team. Here are a few potential candidates.
First we have to consider the numbers of positions that are locks.
- Two QBs, five WRs, eight OL, four RB/FBs, plus Zeke for five, and four TEs, unless Rico Gathers’ concussion lands him on IR with the chance to return. That’s 24 on offense.
- Five LBs, eight DL, and probably 10 DBs with all the hamstring issues. That’s 23 on defense.
That makes the potential cuts either the third quarterback (Kellen Moore), sixth wide receiver (Noah Brown), or ninth offensive lineman (Byron Bell or Emmett Cleary) on offense. On defense, with Hitchens likely headed for IR, it’s the sixth LB (Mark Nzeocha or Joe Jones), ninth DL (Lewis Neal, Joey Ivie, Jordan Carrell, Woody Baron, or Lenny Jones), or the 11th DB (Robert Blanton or Sammy Seamster or Duke Thomas).
The best choices are Kellen Moore, who is unlikely to be claimed, or the sixth linebacker, who would only be a special teams player and can also likely clear waivers. Next up might be the defensive linemen, who would only be stop gaps until Damontre Moore and David Irving return from their suspensions. Dallas uses an eight man rotation, so they may not need more. And Dallas is unlikely to carry 11 DBs. Most at risk of being claimed would likely be the two offensive linemen.
The Cowboys roster will have to be squeezed a bit, but if they handle things right, it’s unlikely to cost the team a player while Zeke’s appeal and roster slot is sorted out.