NFL: Ezekiel Elliott suspension would not exclude playoff games, Super Bowl

Here's a fun little wrinkle to an already impossible-to-follow legal situation involving Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott: the NFL said on Friday that Elliott's six-game suspension will carry over into the postseason, including the Super Bowl, should the legal battle last that long. 

OK, maybe "fun" is a bad way to describe that, especially for Cowboys fans. But that is the league's stance, an NFL spokesperson told CBSSports.com on Friday. 

Elliott was originally suspended the first six games of the season back when Roger Goodell handed down his initial ruling in August

There have been any number of yo-yo style legal rulings in myriad courtrooms that have left Elliott suspended and then not suspended and then suspended again and then not suspended again. The Cowboys are just 4-3, but have been playing very well the last two weeks, largely thanks to Elliott rounding into 2016 form and scoring five touchdowns over the last two weeks. 

It appeared his run might come to an end Sunday, but Elliott was handed the latest reprieve from suspension with an administrative stay from the Second Circuit on Friday morning. That guarantees his ability to play on Sunday in Week 9 against the Chiefs

The next step is a hearing in front of a panel of three judges, which could begin as early as next week, although that timing is far from guaranteed and is very much up in the air. It is possible that the legal process could take multiple weeks; the plan is to expedite the hearing and ruling, but the judges have their own schedules and there are many other factors playing into the timing.

Should the hearing carry over through Week 12, the postseason could come into play. Elliott would serve his suspension in Weeks 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 but would have one game left over. If the Cowboys made the playoffs, the league contends Elliott would miss the first week of the postseason as a result.

In the hypothetical event that the case wasn't settled until after Week 13, Elliott would have four regular season games as part of his suspension, but would need to serve two more either in the postseason or, if the Cowboys did not qualify for the playoffs, in 2018. 

There is a history of players being ineligible for the postseason as a result of a suspension during the regular season, so this would not be an uncommon instance. In fact, Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory was ruled ineligible for the postseason as part of his one-year ban in January 2017.

Additionally, there are several instances where the NFL could point to language indicating suspensions would carry over into the postseason. 

The Substances of Abuse Policy very specifically lays out the inclusion of postseason games in a suspension:

3.2.2 Post-Season Treatment of Suspension or Fine Any suspension without pay imposed pursuant to the terms of this Policy shall include post-season games played by the Player's Club if, at the time of suspension, an insufficient number of games remain in the regular season to complete the suspension.

And Article 46, Section 2(i) of the CBA loops in a definition of the playing season (emphasis ours):

Scheduling. Appeal hearings under Section 1(a) will be scheduled to commence within ten (10) days following receipt of the notice of appeal, except that hearings on suspensions issued during the playing season (defined for this Section as the first preseason game through the Super Bowl) will be scheduled for the second Tuesday following the receipt of the notice of appeal, with the intent that the appeal shall be heard no fewer than eight (8) days and no more than thirteen (13) days following the suspension, absent mutual agreement of the parties or a finding by the hearing officer of extenuating circumstances. 

The argument Elliott's case will likely make is that in the letter to Elliott announcing the suspension, the NFL used the phrase "regular-season games." According to CBS Sports Radio legal analyst Amy Dash, Elliott's team would fight any suspension that carried over into the playoffs. 

It may be another uphill battle for Elliott -- during the Tom Brady case, and previously in the Elliott case, it has been widely assumed that appealing a case like this runs the risk of missing playoff games. 

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones acknowledged during a radio interview on 105.3 the Fan, a CBS Sports Radio station, on Friday that the suspension would likely carry over into the playoffs. 

"I would suspect that the NFL will take the stance that it's six games, no matter which games it is," Jones said.

It may not ultimately matter if the panel of judges is capable of rendering a decision one way or another prior to Nov. 20 (the Monday after Week 11 -- the Cowboys play Thursday, Nov. 23 against the Chargers on Thanksgiving). If the panel decides to keep the suspension going or push it to the offseason before then, the playoff situation would be irrelevant because either Elliott would have six games to serve or he would be eligible until the offseason decision. 

If the playoffs do come into play, we may have a legal battle within a legal battle on our hands.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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