Dallas Cowboys

Appeals court rules against Elliott, clears way for suspension

From the scene of Ezekiel Elliott's hearing in New Orleans

Lawyers for the NFL run into Ezekiel Elliott lawyers before 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans
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Lawyers for the NFL run into Ezekiel Elliott lawyers before 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted an injunction Thursday that blocked a six-game suspension for Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, clearing the way for a six-game suspension.

The judges voted 2-1 to grant the NFL’s emergency request and ordered the U.S. Eastern District of Texas Court in Sherman to dismiss Elliott’s case. Elliott is expected to take his case to the Southern District of New York, which is viewed as a more favorable court for the NFL. The league won its Deflate-gate case against Tom Brady in that court.

“We are currently exploring all of our legal options and will make a decision as to what is the best course of action in the next few days,” said Elliott’s attorney, Frank Salzano of Miami. “Until that time we have no further comment on the 5th Circuit’s decision.”

The Dallas Cowboys said they would not comment on the decision.

The vote was not unanimous, with James E. Graves issuing a dissenting opinion in Elliott’s favor. Jennifer Elrod and Edward Prado swung the decision in the NFL’s favor.

A federal judge in Sherman issued an injunction in September that blocked the suspension. Elliott will have to get another injunction in New York in order to keep playing this season.

But until then Elliott will miss the next six games following Sunday’s bye, starting with the Oct. 22 matchup at the San Francisco 49ers, the Oct. 29 game at the Washington Redskins, at home Nov. 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Nov. 12 at the Atlanta Falcons, Nov. 19 at home against the Philadelphia Eagle and the Nov. 23 Thanksgiving Day game against the Washington Redskins.

Elliott is eligible to return to the team Nov. 24.

In his ruling in September, U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas sided with the NFL Players Association attorneys who felt the NFL’s investigation into domestic violence allegations was unfair and the subsequent appeal was unfair.

He also felt Elliott would suffer irreparable harm during his suspension.

The NFL said it followed the terms of the league’s labor deal with the players and that Elliott and the union filed suit with the Eastern District of Texas before the appeals process was completed.

The 5th Circuit agreed with the NFL saying the case was not ripe as Elliott had not exhausted all remedies under the collective bargaining agreement, thus Elliott filed too soon and the Texas court did not have proper jurisdiction to rule.

”While these arguments and concerns about the arbitration process may have merit, they must be considered by a court with proper jurisdiction,” the court said in its ruling.

This issue has been hanging over Elliott and the Cowboys since July 2016 when a former girlfriend accused Elliott of domestic violence. Columbus, Ohio, prosecutors declined to pursue charges, citing misleading and inconsistent information from the accuser, Elliott’s ex-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed Elliott a six-game suspension on Aug. 11 after the league conducted a 13-month investigation. Goodell said the league felt he had committed at least three domestic violence incidents against Thompson.

Elliott, the NFL rushing champion in 2016, leads the Cowboys with 393 rushing yards on 105 carries with two touchdowns through the first five games. He also has 134 receiving yards and a score.

From a football standpoint, the the 2-3 start with Elliott in the lineup is a disappointment. Now the Cowboys face a six-game stretch that includes three games on the road, matchups against three division leaders and two against NFC East foes (the Redskins and Eagles).

The Cowboys are likely to start Alfred Morris in his place, though Rod Smith and Darren McFadden will combine to help fill the void at running back.

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr

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