There was an idea heading into Dallas Cowboys training camp that the start of actual football might bring an end to an off-season full of distractions — or at least offer a brief respite.
But if the first day was any indication, the fireworks have only just begun.
Owner Jerry Jones, as only he could, downplayed the team’s litany of off-field issues by comparing it to the 1990s when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls with problem players such as Michael Irvin, Charles Haley and Nate Newton.
Jones also appeared to declare war against the NFL with his impassioned support of continually-in-trouble running back Ezekiel Elliott.
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Per multiple reports, the NFL has finally ended its year-long investigation into domestic violence accusations brought against Elliott by a former girlfriend.
The Columbus (Ohio) attorney’s office dropped the case because of “conflicting and inconsistent” information. Elliott has maintained his innocence.
ESPN recently reported that Elliott should brace for a one or two-game suspension. Jones used the team’s first press conference of training camp Sunday to double down on his belief that Elliott did nothing wrong.
There is absolutely nothing, not one thing, that I’ve seen that has anything to do with domestic violence.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
The owner, in turn, launched the first salvo in a possible battle with the NFL, if Elliott is indeed suspended.
“There’s nothing. I have reviewed everything as you know. There is absolutely nothing, not one thing, that I’ve seen that has anything to do with domestic violence,” Jones said. “I don’t want to answer any more. But I’ve seen nothing.”
Jones was as unequivocal Sunday as he was last year when the allegations first appeared. He said several times over the last year that the NFL had no cause and no case against Elliott.
The only thing that changed recently is the NFL has completed its report. Elliott and the NFL Players Association have submitted “a final response” to the league.
Jones claims to have seen the report, and nothing has changed his mind.
“I found nothing since we were standing here this time last year,” Jones said. “And I knew everything in that report, I knew that this time last year. Those are their concerns because you need to get this stuff behind you.”
Jones’ words came one day after Elliott’s accuser spoke out for the first time via an Instagram post Saturday, the one-year anniversary of the initial accusation, detailing “a toxic relationship” with the star running back.
Jones not only declares that nothing happened but that there is not a discrepancy among the participants.
“My opinion is there is not even an issue of ‘He said, she said,’ ” Jones said. “There is not even an issue there.”
But the NFL doesn’t need a court conviction or even a court case to levy discipline against a player for conduct detrimental to the league. The NFL has taken its time investigating this case to ensure it gets it right after so many previous mistakes.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the league “wants to pin something” on Elliott as a lesson for his repeated mistakes in judgment.
It should be just reflective as what I am here and what I know.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
But Jones, considered by many to be the de facto NFL commissioner with more power and influence than anyone — including commissioner Roger Goodell — doesn’t seem inclined to let that happen without a fight.
Jones cited the New England Patriots as an example of overcoming distractions after they survived Tom Brady’s four-game suspension last season and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Seemingly, the bigger lesson for Jones comes from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who admittedly regretted not fighting the NFL sanctions and penalties from the Deflategate controversy.
Jones will not let the hoopla of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame prevent him from fighting for Elliott.
Of course, as Jones made his preemptive strike Sunday, he claimed no knowledge about any possible discipline or any intent to influence the decision.
“I don’t want to in any way speculate,” Jones said. “I don’t know that there’s anything I could say that might influence, but I don’t want anything I’ve said over the last week to be interpreted as a feeling or a speculation about his status, relative to a suspension. It shouldn’t be. It should be just reflective as what I am here and what I know.”
What he is: the most powerful owner in the NFL. What he knows: Elliott is not guilty of domestic violence and the league has no case.
That was not friendly fire.
That was a direct hit.
Are you ready for some football?