The roller coaster that has been Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s legal fight with the NFL took another winding turn on Tuesday when a New York judge granted his motion for a temporary restraining order, blocking the six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and putting him back on the field.
It means that Elliott will be back at practice Wednesday and in uniform Sunday when the team resumes play against the San Francisco 49ers after last week’s bye.
The ruling is temporary and will last for up to 14 days. Elliott and his lawyers from the NFL Players Association will have to again plead their case to Judge Katherine Failla when she is back from vacation before or by Oct. 30.
That means Elliott also is eligible for the Oct. 29 game at the Washington Redskins.
The decision was made by U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty, who was filling in for Failla.
And it came five days after a federal appeals court overturned a Texas court’s injunction that had kept Elliott on the field, resulting in the NFL placing him on the suspended list Friday.
“We are confident our arguments will prevail in court when they are taken up again later this month,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Elliott was not at the Cowboys’ facility on Tuesday with the rest of the team but will be back at the Star in Frisco on Wednesday.
Failla will ultimately decide whether to grant Elliott a preliminary injunction, similar to what he received from Judge Amos Mazzant of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
As of now, the NFL cannot appeal the TRO, thus keeping Elliott on the field for at least two more weeks.
Crotty made a ruling similar to Mazzant, who was ordered to dismiss the case by the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals because of improper jurisdiction, by pointing out issues of unfairness by the NFL in its investigation and irreparable harm to Elliott if he had to miss games.
Crotty pointed out that Elliott was not allowed to confront his accusing witness, former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson, during the league’s appeal process before arbitrator Harold Henderson nor was he able to cross examine NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“In effect, (Elliott) was deprived of opportunities to explore pertinent and material evidence, which raises sufficiently serious questions,” Crotty wrote in his decision.
Those were the same arguments made by Elliott and the NFLPA and also supported by Mazzant as well as appellate Judge James E. Graves, the only dissenter in the 2-1 decision by the three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit against Elliott last week.
While the majority decision was based on improper jurisdiction because Elliott and the NFLPA filed the suit too soon, Graves focused on fundamental fairness.
And as sports law expert Daniel Wallach pointed out, there are now three judges on the record highlighting the fundamental unfairness from the NFL against Elliott, making it possible that Failla could rule in a similar manner when she decides on the preliminary injunction.
The NFL remains confident it will ultimately prevail because this is the same court that sided with it against Tom Brady in the Deflate-gate case.
However, Crotty offered a differing opinion in his ruling that could give Elliott and the NFLPA hope. His decision leaves the question of “fundamental fairness” open to courts.
Elliott was originally suspended Aug. 11 after the league concluded its yearlong investigation into allegations that he had physical confrontations with Thompson in 2016.
Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, declined to pursue charges in the case, citing conflicting evidence, but the NFL went ahead with its investigation.
Elliott has consistently denied the allegations.
Elliott’s presence for at least two more weeks is a boost for the Cowboys after a disappointing 2-3 start, including consecutive home losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay heading into the bye week.
Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden were set to fill in by committee for Elliott while he served his suspension.