The Ezekiel Elliott saga has finally reached a conclusion.
The Dallas Cowboys running back has been suspended for six games, the league announced on Friday. Elliott was under investigation for alleged incidents of domestic violence for over a year before the league reached its decision.
The NFL issued a statement about the suspension on NFL.com. It reads as follows:
Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys was notified today by the NFL that he will be suspended without pay for the team's first six 2017 regular-season games for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy.
Over the course of the last year, the league conducted an extensive investigation. League investigators interviewed more than a dozen witnesses, including Ms. Tiffany Thompson, who had alleged multiple instances of physical violence in July 2016, and Mr. Elliott. The league also consulted with medical experts. League investigators examined all available evidence, including photographic and digital evidence, thousands of text messages and other records of electronic communications.
Pursuant to the Personal Conduct Policy, Commissioner Goodell sought the views of four external advisors (see below) to assist him in evaluating potential violations. These experts range in experience from law enforcement, judicial and public service, and other specialized subject areas.
The advisors participated in a meeting on June 26, 2017 in New York City with Elliott, who was represented by his legal team and the NFL Players Association. The group also reviewed the league's investigative reports and materials, the expert medical reports, and multiple NFL Players Association submissions on Elliott's behalf.
In a letter to Elliott advising him of the decision, Todd Jones, the NFL's Special Counsel for Conduct, said these advisors "were of the view that there is substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that [Elliott] engaged in physical violence against Ms. Thompson on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016."
After reviewing the record, and having considered the views of the independent advisors, the commissioner determined that the credible evidence established that Elliott engaged in conduct that violated NFL policy.
Elliott may appeal this decision within three days. If he does not appeal, Elliott's suspension will begin September 2, the day of final roster reductions for NFL teams. He is eligible to participate in all preseason practices and games. Elliott will be eligible to return to the team's active roster on Monday, October 23 following the Cowboys' Sunday, October 22 game against the San Francisco 49ers.
MEMBERS OF THE EXTERNAL EXPERT ADVISORY PANEL
PETER HARVEY, Esq., former Attorney General for the State of New Jersey.
KEN HOUSTON, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who played in 14 seasons in the NFL.
TONYA LOVELACE, MA, Chief Executive Officer of The Women of Color Network, Inc.
MARY JO WHITE, Esq., former United States attorney and former Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
According to a copy of the suspension letter that was obtained by a league source, the NFL believes that the credible evidence establishes that Elliott used physical force against the alleged victim several times during the week of July 16, 2016. The league stated that a review of photographs and other evidence conducted by medical experts appeared consistent with the alleged victim's description of how events occurred.
Elliott was also told that the parade incident where Elliott pulled down a woman's shirt in March 2017 will not be considered separately for additional discipline, but that he should be advised that his behavior was inappropriate, disturbing and reflected a lack of respect for women.
Lastly, Elliott was informed that he will not be subject to additional punishment for refusing to cooperate with the investigation. He was also informed that any further adverse involvement with law enforcement could result in an additional suspension or potential banishment from the NFL.
Elliott will be allowed to remain with the team through the preseason, but once his suspension begins he will not be allowed into the Cowboys' facility until the suspension ends.
Elliott is the fourth Cowboys player to be suspended for at least one game next season. Defensive linemen Damontre Moore (two games), David Irving (four games), and Randy Gregory (one year) were also suspended. It's possible that cornerback Nolan Carroll (DWI) and linebacker Damien Wilson (alleged assault) could be suspended as well.
The NFL's domestic violence policy calls for any player accused of domestic violence to be suspended for six games, with allowances for shorter or longer suspensions based on mitigating or aggravating circumstances, but nearly all prior suspensions for violations of the policy have originally been for fewer than six games. Elliott reserves the right to appeal any suspension, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (or a Goodell designee) would hear the appeal unless he recuses himself, so it seems unlikely that any suspension would be overturned entirely.
And in fact, that's what Elliott is reportedly expected to do:
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott is expected to appeal 6-game suspension, per sources. Has three business days to file appeal.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 11, 2017
Elliott could also choose to take the case to court after his appeal is heard, a la Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Deflategate, but that would drag the situation out even further than it already has been. The NFLPA told CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora that it is "reviewing the decision and have been in touch with Ezekiel and his representatives to consider all options."
NFLPA on Elliott ruling: We are reviewing the decision and have been in touch with Ezekiel and his representatives to consider all options.— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) August 11, 2017
Elliott's ex-girlfriendback in July 2016, posting several Instagram photos that showed bruises on her knee, arms, and neck. The caption of the photos contained an allegation that she had been abused for months, and that "it finally got out of control to where I was picked up and thrown across the room by my arms. Thrown into walls. Being choked to where I have to gasp for breath. Bruised everywhere, mentally and physically abused."
Elliott was not arrested, and the City Attorney's office in Columbus, Ohio investigated the allegations and declined to press charges. In a press release announcing that decision, the City Attorney's office stated the following:
After reviewing the totality of the evidence, the City Attorney's Office, Prosecutor Division is declining to approve criminal charges in this matter for any of the five alleged incidents. This is primarily due to conflicting and inconsistent information across all incidents resulting in concern regarding the sufficiency of the evidence to support the filing of criminal charges.
However, the attorney investigated the allegations did state that he believed there was a series of incidents involving violence between Elliott and the accuser, according to USA Today.
Despite the lack of charges, the NFL continued its investigation of Elliott under the domestic violence policy. According to NFL.com, the league was also looking at "multiple" other incidents involving Elliott, which is something Cowboys owner Jerry Jones alluded to as well. Elliott was allegedly involved in a fight at a bar in July and was in a parade and pulled down a woman's shirt while on the top of a float in March. No arrest was made and no charges were filed in either of those cases, either.
Throughout the NFL's investigation, Jones and the Cowboys were supportive of Elliott and insistent that there was he would not be suspended. That belief has now been shaken, and Jones is reportedly not happy with today's decision:. They steadfastly expressed confidence that
Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones is said to be furious with NFL decision, per one source. Furious.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 11, 2017
With Elliott out of the lineup for six games, Dallas will have to turn to some combination of backups Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and Rod Smith. They still have one of the best offensive lines in football, a rising star quarterback in Dak Prescott, and top-flight passing game weapons, but they will lose an element of explosiveness in the running game that helped take the offense to a higher level last season. Whether or not they can weather his absence early in the season will go a long way toward determining if they can make a repeat trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.