The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied Ezekiel Elliott's and the NFL Players Association's request for an injunction pending appeal in Elliott's case.
The decision almost certainly keeps Elliott off the field for the next six games. Elliott currently is not eligible to play until Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 24. The NFLPA's expedited appeal hearing is scheduled to take place before the 2nd Circuit on Dec. 1 -- meaning Elliott will almost certainly miss the next four games.
The 2nd Circuit denied the injunction request after hearing oral arguments from both union and NFL lawyers during a hearing in New York on Thursday, which Elliott attended. The three-judge panel's decision allows the league to enforce the suspension until a ruling is made in the NFLPA's case, according NFL Network legal analyst Gabe Feldman.
The NFLPA can appeal the ruling, but its chances for success are slim, Feldman said. The union can pursue a full-panel rehearing -- also known as a rehearing en banc -- with the 2nd Circuit. Appellate courts, however, rarely grant full-court rehearings. The union also could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but it would be "a long shot" for the highest court in the country to accept it, Feldman said.
The decision to not grant a preliminary injunction comes after a lower court denied the same request last month, reinstating Elliott's suspension briefly before a stay was issued by the 2nd Circuit.
There have been five court hearings in the case since early September. A U.S. District Court judge in Texas initially put the suspension on hold before it was reinstated by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The suit then moved to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York -- the NFL's preferred venue based mostly on the favorable precedent established there by the Tom Brady Deflategate case. A judge reinstated Elliott's eligibility for two games before another judge's ruling suspended Elliott again, prompting the union's appeal to the 2nd Circuit.
Until today's ruling, the second-year running back hasn't missed a game this season for the Cowboys. Elliott, who tallied a league-best 1,631 rushing yards en route to a First Team All-Pro selection as a rookie, sits second in NFL rushing this season with 783 yards. He's tied with Todd Gurley for most rushing touchdowns (7) in 2017.
Elliott was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in August following a year-long investigation into domestic violence allegations made by Tiffany Thompson, his former girlfriend. The league concluded he violated its personal conduct policy, which mandates a six-game suspension for first-time domestic violence violations. Elliott, 22, was never charged and has denied wrongdoing.
"This is bigger than a suspension, this is bigger than football," Elliott told NFL Network's Jane Slater and other reporters last week. "It's them trying to make something that I'm not. I'm not an abuser, that's not who I am. This is my name, this is my reputation, something that I'll have to live with beyond football. So every day is worth fighting."
The NFLPA's lawsuit, which was filed on the same day Elliott's appeal before a league-appointed arbitrator ended, doesn't try to undermine the factual conclusions from the NFL's investigation -- it challenges the process the league undertook to suspend Elliott, Feldman said. The NFL wants to enforce Elliott's suspension this season and confirm Goodell's authority to issue punishment based on "conduct detrimental" to the league as mandated in Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement.
It's virtually the same argument the NFL deployed in ultimately successful appeals against Brady during Deflategate and Adrian Peterson after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.
Unlike the Brady case, it appears the NFL's quest to enforce Elliott's suspension will be realized this season rather than next.