Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s availability for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons might come down to the wire again this week.
But this time, there might be a final decision for the rest of the season.
The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, who granted Elliott an administrative stay of his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy last Friday, has scheduled a hearing at 1 p.m. Thursday on his appeal of Southern District Judge Katherine Failla’s denial of his request for a preliminary injunction.
A three-judge panel will hear the case and could rule from the bench, return a decision by Friday or it might take a few days.
The judges assigned to hear the motion on Thursday are Debra Ann Livingston, Dennis Jacobs and Christopher F. Droney. Livingston and Jacobs are both Republicans who were appointed by George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush, respectively. Droney is a Democrat who was appointed by Barack Obama.
“That’s my understanding, yes,” coach Jason Garrett said. “”We anticipate him being here tomorrow and
practicing through the week until there is some decision made. But again, we’re going to focus on what we can control in that situation.
Zeke has done a really good job of that. Until someone tells us otherwise, we’ll proceed accordingly.
If he is granted a preliminary injunction by the appeals court, then he will likely be able to play with the Cowboys for the rest of the season while the case goes through the court system.
If Failla’s ruling is upheld, then Elliott will be suspended immediately.
Elliott missed two days of practice last week after Failla’s decision Monday reinstated the suspension that was initially announced Aug. 11.
The Second Circuit granted him an emergency stay, pending the appeal Friday.
Elliott rushed 27 times for 93 yards and a touchdown on short notice in the Cowboys 28-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
It was the continuation of a season-long process after Elliott was granted a preliminary injunction, blocking the suspension, from a district judge in Sherman, Texas, the Tuesday before the season opener.
He played five games before that decision was thrown out by Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals because of improper jurisdiction by the Texas court.
He was then granted a temporary restraining order by a sit-in judge in the Southern District while Failla was on vacation, allowing him to play two more games, setting the stage for the legal maneuvers of the past seven days.
He rushed for 150 yards in a 33-19 victory against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 29 only to have Failla reject his request for an injunction Oct. 30.
Then he was granted the administrative stay four days later, on Nov. 3. He returned to practice the same day and played Sunday against the Chiefs.
Garrett said the Cowboys are not going to spend much time thinking about the particulars of the situation this week. They are just to prepare and take it one day at a time as they have done all season.
“I think the biggest thing we try to do with everybody is we give everybody reps over the course of the week to get them prepared to play in the game,” Garrett said. “I don’t want to break down the rep numbers per offensive set for you, but suffice it to say, the backup running backs get work throughout the week in a given week. We don’t anticipate that changing and we’ll just play the situation out day by day.”
But there is questioning the importance Elliott and his availability is to the Cowboys, who have been riding him hard the past four games, including the the current three game winning streak that has them 5-3 after a disappointing 2-3 start.
Elliott has had 29, 26, 33 and 27 carries in the past four games against the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Washington Redskins and Chiefs. He saw his three-game streak of at least 100 yards snapped against the Chiefs but the workmanlike 93 yards was crucial to the team’s success, per Garrett, who compared him to the greats of the game for wanting the ball in crucial moments and at critical times.
“I think he is a really good football players,” Garrett said. “He wants the ball. Emotionally he is ready to handle the ball. Mentally, he is ready to handle it. He loves the responsibility. He has a competitive instinct to him that the best players I have been around him have. He just wants it. And he is physically sturdy enough to handle it. He gets better as the game goes on. Yesterday’s game was a great example. Not a lot of explosive runs in the game. But a lot of 3, 4, 5, 6 yard runs that add up after a while.
“It allows you to control the game, control the line of scrimmage. And over the course of the game, wear them down. He made a lot of big runs that are not going to make the highlight film. He made a lot big run in that game yesterday in critical moments.”