Tuesday's NFL: Elliott suspension upheld, but will play Week 1

Schuyler Dixon
Associated Press
The NFL says Commissioner Roger Goodell was aware of one of his lead investigator's view that Ezekiel Elliott shouldn't be disciplined before the Dallas running back was suspended for six games in a domestic violence case. League spokesman Brian McCarthy on Friday disputed a key claim in a lawsuit filed by the players' union on behalf of Elliott seeking to vacate an upcoming ruling on an appeal.

Sherman, Texas — An arbitrator denied Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal of a six-game suspension in a domestic violence case Tuesday, but the 2016 NFL rushing champion will play in the opener because of the timing of the decision.

Elliott attorney Jeffrey Kessler told the judge near the end of a nearly 2 1/2-hour hearing in federal court that Elliott’s suspension was sustained by arbitrator Harold Henderson.

At the start of the hearing, NFL attorney Daniel Nash told the judge it was “his understanding” that Elliott could play Sunday night against the New York Giants because the league didn’t want to rush the judge.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant said he would rule on Elliott’s request for a temporary restraining order by Friday. If the request is denied and no further legal action taken, Elliott’s suspension would start in Week 2 at Denver. He would be eligible to return Nov. 5 against Kansas City.

“We are extremely disappointed with Mr. Henderson’s inability to navigate through league politics, and follow the evidence, and, most importantly, his (sic) conscience,” attorneys Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum said in a statement released after the hearing.

Elliott was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded he had several physical confrontations last summer with Tiffany Thompson, a former girlfriend. Prosecutors in Ohio didn’t pursue the case, citing conflicting evidence.

The 22-year-old Elliott denied the allegations in sworn testimony during an appeal hearing last week. He attended Tuesday’s hearing in Sherman, about 65 miles north of Dallas, sitting quietly in a suit and tie and facing away from the audience and mostly toward the judge.

The NFL Players’ Association sued in federal court on behalf of Elliott last week before Henderson even ruled, saying the appeal hearing was “fundamentally unfair” because the running back was prevented from confronting his accuser in the Ohio case.

Kessler reiterated most of the NFLPA’s arguments before Mazzant, who pressed Nash for answers on the claim from Elliott’s legal team that a co-lead investigator who questioned Thompson’s credibility was left out of a key meeting with Goodell during the yearlong probe.

According to the letter Elliott received informing him of the suspension last month, the NFL believed he used “physical force” three times in a span of five days in a Columbus, Ohio, apartment last July resulting in injuries to Thompson’s face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, hips and knees.

Prosecutors in Columbus decided about a year ago not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, but the NFL kept the investigation open. The league said its conclusions were based on photographs, text messages and other electronic evidence.

Kessler again questioned why Henderson didn’t allow Thompson or Goodell to testify at the appeal hearing, as did Mazzant. The judge seemed sympathetic to Kessler’s claim that investigator Kia Roberts was kept out of the loop while believing that Elliott shouldn’t be suspended.

The NFLPA has blamed the exclusion of Roberts on NFL special counsel Lisa Friel, who was hired as a result of changes three years ago in the personal conduct policy that stiffened penalties in domestic cases.

The changes came after the league was sharply criticized for its handling of the case involving former Baltimore running back Ray Rice.

Nash countered that procedures with the league’s investigation and the appeal were “grounded in policy” through the labor deal with the players.

“You can’t second-guess that,” Nash told Mazzant.

Henderson has heard dozens of appeals, including New Orleans running back Adrian Peterson’s in a child abuse case out of Texas when Peterson was with Minnesota. Henderson denied Peterson’s appeal of a suspension, but a federal judge overturned Henderson’s ruling.

Last year, Elliott missed a large portion of the preseason because of a hamstring injury before rushing for 1,631 yards and helping the Cowboys to a 13-3 record. Dallas didn’t use Elliott in the first three preseason games but he had eight touches in 10 plays in his only series in the finale against Oakland as the appeal case played out.

Coach Jason Garrett said Elliott returned to team activities Saturday after attending the appeal hearing, which stretched over three days. Garrett said he was anticipating Elliott being at team meetings before Tuesday’s hearing.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said the club was preparing as if Elliott would be available Week 1.

Miami game to move

The NFL says the Dolphins’ season opener against the Buccaneers will not be played in Miami this week, but may be moved to a neutral site because of Hurricane Irma.

If the game is not relocated, it will be postponed until November, when the teams share the same bye week.

Kickoff had been scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, but Irma is forecast to threaten South Florida this weekend. A decision on when and where to play is expected today.

“We’re going to keep practicing and getting ready for the game until somebody tells us different,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said.

The teams would prefer to avoid moving the game to their bye weekend, because it would mean both teams would play 16 weeks in a row.

“Whatever they tell us to do, we’ll do,” Gase said.

Irma is forecast to be a major hurricane as it approaches Florida late this week.

“I’ve never been through anything like that,” said Gase, a Michigan native. “I don’t know what to expect.”

Cowboys No. 1 in demand

America’s Team? When it comes to ticket demand, the Cowboys certainly are.

According to StubHub’s data heading into the 2017 season, which kicks off Thursday night, the Cowboys maintained their top spot, doubling the popularity of games involving New England. The Patriots, who open the schedule against Kansas City in that kickoff game, have seen a 44 percent rise in demand for their games.

Green Bay, which opens at Lambeau Field against Seattle, is third in ticket popularity.

Heading into the full schedule, StubHub has seen such a prominent desire among fans to acquire Cowboys tickets that half of its top 10 most coveted tickets are for Dallas contests.

Tops on the list is Sunday night’s opener against the visiting Giants.

Personnel dept.

The Jets signed wide receiver Jeremy Kerley to a one-year deal. The former Lion spent his first five NFL seasons with the franchise.

... The Cardinals signed guard Alex Boone to a one-year contract.

... The Bills placed third-string quarterback T.J. Yates on the injured reserve list in making a series of moves before their season opener against the Jets on Sunday. Buffalo also cut defensive tackle Deandre Coleman.

Buffalo then signed safety Colt Anderson and defensive tackle Cedric Thornton.

... The Raiders placed second-round pick Obi Melifonwu (knee) on injured reserve, forcing the safety to miss at least the first eight games of the season.

... Former Lion QB Kellen Moore was re-signed by the Cowboys after getting released on the original cut to the 53-man roster. Garrett hasn’t indicated whether the sixth-year veteran or undrafted rookie Cooper Rush (Central Michigan) will be the backup. The Cowboys didn’t want to expose Rush to waivers. … LB Mark Nzeocha was signed to the practice squad, replacing WR Brian Brown.