Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott gets suspension appeal heard Tuesday

By The Sports Xchange  |  Aug. 29, 2017 at 2:40 PM
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FRISCO, Tex. -- Suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott's long-shot effort to have his discipline for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy overturned on appeal begins in earnest on Tuesday.

Elliott will be represented by his own lawyers, Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum as well as two bulldog attorneys from the National Football League Players Association, Jeffrey Kessler and Heather McPhee, who both have been involved in previous litigation success against NFL.

Per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Elliott has already suffered three procedural setbacks in hopes of getting the suspension reduced or vacated, and he is bracing for the possibility of taking the matter to federal court if he doesn't get an acceptable result, according to sources.

Elliott and his representatives asked for an independent arbitrator to hear the case. But the league selected Harold Henderson, a former NFL management executive.

The request was denied by NFL commissioner Goodell, who under Article 46 of the league's collective bargaining agreement, is given the authority to hear the case himself or appoint a designee.

When asked if he felt Henderson would be neutral enough on the case to give Elliott hope, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones avoided the answer.

"I don't know," Jones responded with a laugh. "But he is a friend and of course that's the way it would be. He managed the management council for maybe 15 years I served on it. He's very competent, but the main thing is he's a guy that I admire a lot. Former policeman, former attorney. He's come through it the hard way. Literally."

But that doesn't mean Jones or Elliott's defense team believes Henderson will be neutral.

And it's an area Elliott will attack if they head to federal court.

As it pertains to Elliott's appeal of a six-game suspension for allegedly committing domestic violence against former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson, Henderson has already thrown Elliott a couple of major setbacks.

Henderson denied a request to make Thompson, Elliott's accuser, available to testify at the appeals hearing. He also denied requests for notes or transcripts from the league's meetings with Thompson, according to sources.

Those denials make Elliott's bid to win his appeal an even bigger uphill battle, according to a source.

But it also opens the door for possible success in federal court, if they choose to go that route, on procedural violations, per a source.

When the league suspended Elliott on Aug. 11, following a 13-month investigation, it concluded that there was "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, 2106."

Goodell's decision was aided by a four-member advisory committee, including Peter Harvey, former attorney general of New Jersey; Ken Houston, a Hall of Fame player; Tonya Lovelace, chief executive of the Women of Color Network Inc.; and Mary Jo White, former U.S. attorney and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

He also cited photographic evidence and testimony of medical professionals.

But it basically was a situation of the league believing Thompson more than it did Elliott.

At the time, Elliott's team promised a vigorous defense, while blasting the league for their "factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions."

They also promised "a slew of additional credible and controverting evidence will come to light" upon appeal.

They plan to question Thompson's motive and credibility at the appeal, citing threats to ruin his career and discussions about blackmailing him for sex videos.

The NFL was aware of those incidents when rendering the initial decision. It's unlikely that Henderson would vacate the suspension barring the presentation of new evidence, according to a source.

He also will not be inclined to reduce the suspension without any evidence of contrition and admittance of responsibility from Elliott.

If Elliott does sue the NFL in an attempt to obtain a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, it could delay his suspension, allowing him to open the season with the team.

There is no guarantee that an injunction will be granted, but Elliott's presence for the Sept. 10 season opener against the New York Giants is something the Cowboys are not ruling out.

Head coach Jason Garrett, who plans for Elliott to be back with the team Wednesday following the hearing, said the Cowboys have been preparing like he will be ready for Week 1.

"That's the way we have prepared our team," Garrett said. "He has done a really good job in practice getting ready for Week 1. The other guys have gotten a lot of opportunities as well.

"Obviously, they have gotten a lot more in the preseason games, they have worked with the ones, but we've tried to get him ready to play in Week 1, understanding the appeal process will get underway."

Notes: Tight end Rico Gathers remains sidelined with a concussion two weeks after a helmet-to-helmet shot with safety Kavon Frazier knocked him out of an Aug. 15 practice in Oxnard, Calif. Head coach Jason Garrett said Gathers would not practice this week and will not play in Thursday's preseason finale. The extent of the concussion could force the Cowboys to place Gathers on injured reserve to start the season. If the organization goes that route, Gathers would be out for at least the first eight weeks of the regular season. He could return to practice after six weeks. ... Guard Chaz Green is wearing a walking boot after sustaining an ankle injury in Saturday's preseason game. Green declined comment on his situation Monday. Green missed his rookie season with a hip injury and then was sidelined after four games, including two starts, in 2016 because of foot and back injuries.

Conerbacks Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods and Jourdan Lewis all continue to deal with hamstring injuries. Head coach Jason Garrett said Awuzie and Woods will have a chance to play Thursday, while Lewis is a long shot. ... Wide receiver Ryan Switzer, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, practiced Monday. He could see his first preseason action on Thursday. ... Cornerback Duke Thomas, a Texas product who has had an impressive training camp, is dealing with a sprained knee and ankle sustained in Saturday's game. He is sidelined for the short term and won't be able to play Thursday.

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