- Elliott has been suspended and then un-suspended and then suspended and then un-suspended... All of which to say, the NFL desperately needs to have a third party make final rulings when it comes to player discipline.
If you enjoy legal minutiae, football and the intersection between the two, the last two years have been your halcyon days. Five hundred and forty-four glorious mornings waking up to appeals, hearings, investigations, reports, non-recusals and stays in the Tom Brady/Deflategate saga finally came to an end when Brady accepted his four-game suspension to start the 2016 season.
And just when it seemed the constant weight of a suspension hanging over the collective heads of teams and fan bases as they prepare for games reached its nadir, the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys woke up to the news Friday morning that star running back Ezekiel Elliott is playing in Sunday’s game in Arlington.
This comes just four days after United States District Judge Katherine Failla denied Elliott’s motion and activated the six-game suspension the league initially levied for allegations of abuse against Elliott stemming from an incident last summer.
Imagine being either one of these teams. Imagine being Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who needed to dive back into Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden tape all week to craft his game plan before a temporary stay jutted the 2016 rushing champion right back into the top of his worry list. Imagine being Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who has gone week to week wondering if his best player is going to be there or not.
Imagine being the average fan who just wants to set his or her fantasy football lineup and melt into a couch without being bombarded by the same legal jargon that grinds their work week down to untenable.
At the risk of being labeled an old man yelling at cloud, a few side notes: I understand why it’s happening. We all do. The NFL wants to protect Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement, which gives commissioner Roger Goodell his authority. The NFLPA’s job is to challenge the “integrity” of the process and protect their players, which they have tried exhaustively to do. Imagine being Elliott, who has denied the allegations made against him and is stringing out his legal options in fear that he’ll be branded as something he feels he isn’t.
But I cannot help dreaming of a world laid out by Peter King in his latest podcast—an NFL where players are disciplined swiftly by a neutral third party and whatever is decided is final. A snippet of his conversation with ESPN investigative reporter Don Van Natta is below:
KING: “The NFL has to get out of this business. It isn’t worth it. Paul Tagliabue, the greatest thing he said either as a commissioner or a former commissioner, is, you know, basically, you just gotta end these things. All’s well that ends. Not all’s well that ends well. All’s well that ends. Just finish it. To drag Tom Brady for as long as they did and now Ezekiel Elliott, to have the investigation last as long as it did…all I know is that this has hung over a franchise and a league for way, way, way too long.
That’s why the discipline and the appeals process has to get out of the hands of the NFL. It has to be in (the hands) of some third party, some judge who is never going to get booed because no one knows who they are. Some faceless judge that that both sides agree to and whatever he says, she says, that’s it. It’s over.
VAN NATTA: The irony here, as you know, when Roger Goodell came in, he came in in large part because he sold to the owners that he was going to be an enforcer of player discipline in a way his successor, Paul Tagliabue, was not. Isn’t it ironic that 11 years later, so many of the things you (mentioned) that were part of Goodell’s legacy, mostly on the negative side of the ledger, are these over-reaches. These over-steps.
We’re too far down this rabbit hole of legal minutiae now. Prepare this week for the following, via ESPN.com: “A panel of federal judges will convene next week to hear Elliott's request for an injunction that overturns Judge Katherine Polk Failla's ruling from Monday.” Or don’t. I wouldn’t blame you for tuning it out altogether.