The NFL wants an Ezekiel Elliott ruling by Sept. 26 and has a good argument

The NFL filed another major court document in the Ezekiel Elliott suspension case on Friday morning, this time filing its appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit, asking the court to circumvent the ruling issued by the Eastern District Court of Texas allowing the Cowboys running back to continue playing. The league had told the Texas court it would file Friday with the Fifth Circuit if it did not receive a Texas ruling by Thursday.

Most importantly for people reading this is the date the league requested: the NFL requested a ruling on the stay for Elliott's suspension by September 19, 2017 (start of Week 3 practice) but "no later than September 26, 2017" (Week 4).

In case that's not clear: the league would like to have the court rule by this coming Tuesday, which could mean Elliott's suspension might start as early as Week 3 or as late as Week 4 (if the court rules in the NFL's favor). 

That does not mean a suspension will happen, but the NFL has some compelling arguments from a legal standpoint and is not being too aggressive in terms of the timeline it is asking for. 

Elliott, who was suspended six games by the NFL back on August 12, is going to play in Week 2 no matter what. Elliott was granted an injunction to play by the Texas court and it has yet to be vacated. It seems likely that he will play in Week 3, but Week 4 and on is up in the air depending on how this lawsuit goes.

The NFL's arguments can be broken into the following three categories:

Argument 1: The NFLPA jumped the gun

The NFL argues that the union filed its lawsuit before an arbitration award was handed down, saying that the lawsuit "should have been dismissed at the outset, as federal courts do not have subject-matter jurisdiction over arbitration awards that have not yet issued." The basis of this is from previous labor law rulings cited in the league's appeal: "When a CBA provides an arbitration proceeding as 'the exclusive and final remedy' for a claimed breach, the employee may not resort to the courts until that procedure has run its course."

In other words, you can't sprint to court and sue someone until after the arbitration process is ended. It's like that time that Jerry jumped the gun and won the sprint against Duncan in "Seinfeld" basically. 

Argument 2: Elliott's lawsuit is eventually going to lose anyway

Without even offering up the legal mumbo jumbo on this one, this argument can basically be boiled down to: the union agreed to a deal that gives Roger Goodell and the NFL the power to do whatever it wants. Sorry you don't like the deal, but the deal is the deal is the deal. You got an appeal with legal counsel present and a prompt ruling. That is all, the NFL argues, that the union/player is owed:

The league provided Elliott and the NFLPA with an appeal hearing, in which Elliott was accompanied by counsel and permitted to present relevant evidence, and the Arbitrator promptly rendered a written decision. The CBA requires nothing more. 

Argument 3: This lawsuit is begging every suspended player to sue

This is, as I wrote when the NFL filed its Reply to the Eastern District Court in Texas, the most interesting part of this whole debate. The NFL can't argue it could suffer more irreparable harm than Elliott, because Elliott can never get games missed back. It is impossible. But the NFL can argue that allowing players and the union to file suit and delay serving a suspension is a misuse of the court system. And they did just that.

"If Elliott is able to forestall the Commissioner's decision by filing prematurely in his favored forum and asserting that every missed game is an irreparable injury, it is difficult to fathom any case in which a player could not delay his discipline for a full season simply by filing a lawsuit -- which would undermine the CBA's disciplinary process and Congress' preference for 'private settlement of labor disputes,'" the NFL's attorneys wrote in the appeal. 

The league also argues that "while there is public interest in a player's participation in six of his team's football games, that interest pales in comparison to the public's interest in preventing domestic violence and the Commissioner's ability to punish and deter such violence."


We'll see how this plays out -- and how quickly it plays out -- over the next week or so in the legal system. There is no guarantee which way it breaks here, and my gut would still be that Elliott ends up playing the full course of the season because the league cannot give any games back to Elliott if he misses them and it ultimately turns out that he should win the case.

Elliott's legal team essentially pointed out as much in a response to the league's appeal.

"The NFL's latest legal maneuvering appears to be indicative of a league with an agenda: trying to navigate a public relations crisis rather than focus on fairness and fact ending," the legal team said in a statement. "The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the NFL believes it can write its own rules and will stop at nothing to further its agenda of enforcing its unfounded assertions regarding Mr. Elliott. Most recently this would include the NFL seeking an expedited hearing on staying the preliminary injunction by frivolously arguing that the NFL is somehow 'irreparably harmed' by Elliott playing while the Courts decide whether the investigation and appeal was fundamentally unfair. Mr. Elliott and his team will continue to zealously oppose any of the NFL's court filings."

The conservative approach to this situation from the courts would be to push this back into the offseason to ensure that Elliott doesn't miss any games. The concern about every player filing suit and avoiding the agreed-upon setup for determining punishment from the CBA is a big one though. This is not about Elliott and his situation anymore: it's about labor law, and that can make things tricky.

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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