Mac Engel

Don’t look at the NFL but at Zeke

The Dallas Cowboys are growing annoyed with the NFL over its inability to decide if Ezekiel Elliott did something that merits a suspension when the person it needs to be irritated with is Zeke himself.

Zeke is the one who put himself and his team and teammates in this position of uncertainty. There is something there, it’s simply a matter of when it happened, and the degree of severity.

Maybe, ultimately, Zeke did nothing of great consequence, but, as former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells once quoted his father telling him, “It’s never your fault, Parcells, but you’re always there.”

Zeke has to stop being there.

According to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, “there is no new information” in regard to when the Cowboys will actually know if the NFL will suspend Zeke for whatever infraction, or infractions, that might have occurred.

Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said after practice Monday that he expects to have Elliott to be available for all 16 games.

This needs to be done this week. This has gone on for a full year, enough time that the NFL should know if Zeke actually pushed a classmate off the swings in the second grade.

Cowboys owner, Hall of Famer Jerry Jones (yes, that still sounds weird), is on record that he does not believe Zeke will be suspended ... which means we should all prepare for the Cowboys to begin the regular season with Darren McFadden as their starting running back.

This is what we know: Zeke did enough to merit the NFL exploring, for more than a year, the possibility that his behavior warrants a severe punishment. Missing one game in a schedule that has but 16 is a big deal.

Know too that the Cowboys have been holding their breath on him since shortly after he was drafted in the first round in 2016. That was long before he became an NFL celebrity and led the league in rushing.

One Cowboys front office member told me in January, “The guy you have to watch is the running back. This guy is a total diva. It’s going to be a miracle if he doesn’t get into any trouble.”

When the Cowboys were considering Zeke as their 2016 first-round pick, they knew there were maturity issues. But knowing there are maturity issues and living with them are different animals.

Zeke must recognize he is part of something rare with Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant and the NFL’s best offensive line. Whether it’s Emmitt Smith, or McFadden, someone needs to tell Zeke not to blow this winning lottery ticket on staying out a few hours at the club.

Whatever happened, Zeke is out of rookie capital. He had his one year to learn as a rookie and to be dumb. NFL careers are short and he can’t do whatever “this” is again.

Zeke is known to like a party or two. Or three. Or 10. Partying doesn’t necessarily make him a bad guy, a bad pro or an idiot. It means he puts himself in vulnerable positions where he will be a target, or prone to down a few shots of gold label Stupidity. How many good decisions do you make after midnight?

What we know is that he groped a woman at a Mardi Gras-type parade ... likely the first time ever that’s happened in that type of setting. We know just before the start of training camp Zeke was in a fight in Dallas. And we are pretty sure something happened at Ohio State.

We also know in his short time with the Cowboys, Zeke has become a favorite of TMZ. Unless you are TMZ co-creator Harvey Levine, having that name on your résumé is not a good line.

Please don’t bother insisting the NFL’s indecision is unfair to the Cowboys, or their fans. Just as in life, there is nothing in the NFL that is fair. The NFL does not have a municipal court, it can do what it wants.

If the players have a problem with that, they need to take this up with their highly paid union leaders who cash their checks. That is usually around the time the union leaders roll over and wait to have their belly scratched by Roger Goodell and his buddies.

On this, the only thing the NFL can’t do is punish Zeke for any acts that might have occurred before he signed his contract with the Dallas Cowboys. If the NFL and its pack of private investigators found something definitive Zeke did at Ohio State that crossed a line, it’s too late.

The NFL cannot be punishing people for what they did before they became league employees.

Zeke was only accountable to Ohio State, and head coach Urban Meyer. Granted, as evidenced by his tenure at Florida and the Buckeyes’ history, accountability with both is a lax term.

The moment Zeke signed his rookie contract, he was on the hook.

Even if he avoids a suspension, he came close enough that he has to know by now. He’s a second-year player in the NFL, and while all of us can be irritated with the league for its behavior in this matter, the real culprit is Zeke’s behavior.

He might not be the one who started it, but he’s always there. And that has to stop.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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