The road appears to have come to an end for Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott in a New York federal courtroom.
A three-judge panel in the 2nd Circut U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously denied his motion for a preliminary injunction to block a six-game suspension by the NFL for allegations of domestic violence against former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.
With the stay lifted, the 22-year-old Elliott is officially placed on the suspended list for the next six games, starting Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. He will be eligible to return to action Dec. 24 against Seattle.
The three judges who denied the motion were Dennis Jacobs, Debra Livingston and Christopher Droney and they could be the same judges who hear the expedited appeal on the full suit on Dec. 1.
Elliott will miss games at Atlanta and at home against Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Chargers and Washington before the Dec. 1 appeal date. Road games at the New York Giants and at Oakland follow the appeal and would wrap up his six-game suspension.
Per noted legal sports attorney Daniel Wallach, Thursday’s ruling could be viewed as “a telegraphing of the outcome in several weeks.”
Elliott and NFL Player’s Association could also ask for an en banc hearing – with the full 2nd Circuit court – and then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, if they choose. But both are decided longshots based on the history of the case and not viable options to get him back on the field Sunday.
NFL vice-president Joe Lockhart said earlier Thursday that Elliott’s suspension would go into effect as soon as the stay was lifted.
Elliott, who was never charged or arrested in the case and has maintained his innocence throughout, was in New York for the hearing to let the judges know how important he felt it was to clear his name.
He is now suspended and barred from the Cowboys’ facility.
Elliott is second in the NFL with 783 rushing yards and tied for the league lead with seven rushing scores.
Elliott was initially suspended Aug. 11, but has been allowed to play because of a dizzying array of injunctions, restraining orders and court rulings after his initial appeal was rejected by NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson.
Elliott was given a preliminary injunction by Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas, allowing him to play the first five games, before it was thrown out by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans because of improper jurisdiction.
He was then given a 14-day temporary restraining order based on irreparable harm by Judge Paul Crotty of the Southern District of New York, allowing him to play two more games, before Judge Katherine Failla rejected a motion for a preliminary injunction on Oct. 30, reinstating the suspension.
Elliott filed an emergency appeal with the 2nd Circuit in hopes of overturning Failla’s decision and was given an emergency stay on Nov. 3, allowing him to play in Sunday’s 28-17 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Elliott practiced with the Cowboys Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to New York for Thursday’s hearing, not knowing if he would be able to return to the facility.
The news came down Thursday afternoon, ending his hopes of playing while the case remained tied up in court.
The suspension is a huge blow to the Cowboys (5-3), who are riding a three-game winning streak largely behind the efforts of Elliott, the 2016 NFL’s leading rusher as a rookie, who had found his groove again.
Elliott rushed for 506 yards and five touchdowns in the past four games.
The Cowboys are likely to start Alfred Morris in his place against the Falcons on Sunday, though Rod Smith and Darren McFadden will also be called to help fill the void at running back.
The suspension is financial setback for Elliott as well. With a $1.584 million base salary for 2017, the loss of six game checks this year will cost him $560,000.
He also will have to pay back a portion of his $16.35 million signing bonus. That is part of the collective bargaining agreement and comes with all drug or personal conduct suspensions.
The total on that would be $1.4 million.
That amount will be deducted from future earnings rather than have Elliott write a check to the team, according to a source.
In addition, salaries for 2018 and 2019 (totaling $3.853 million) will no longer be guaranteed against a career-ending injury.
If Elliott wins the larger case in court, he will get his money back.