After months of investigation, the NFL has finally rendered a decision with regard to the domestic violence allegations against Ezekiel Elliott: As announced on Friday, the Cowboys' star running back has been suspended for the first six games of the upcoming season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
This suspension stems from incidents involving Tiffany Thompson, Elliott's ex-girlfriend. Thompson reported several acts of physical violence that took place in Columbus, Ohio, in July 2016. Until the suspension announcement, the running back had evaded any formal punishment for his actions. He was not charged with a crime, with the authorities in Columbus citing "conflicting and inconsistent information."
In contrast with the legal investigation, the NFL referenced "substantial and persuasive evidence" in support of its decision. Though the NFL made it clear that the incident at a St. Patrick's Day parade in Dallas this year in which Elliott pulled down a young woman's shirt "will not be considered separately as a basis for additional discipline," it was still a factor. The NFL's special counsel for conduct said it showed "a lack of respect for women."
Elliott can appeal the suspension within three days. If he opts not to do so or loses the petition, the six-game ban begins Week 1 and would keep the running back sidelined until the Cowboys' Oct. 29 game with the Redskins.
High-profile domestic violence and domestic abuse cases in recent years (Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson, to name just a few) have increased scrutiny of the league's handling of such matters. Elliott's punishment may reflect an understanding of that, but there needs to be an ongoing discussion on how the NFL and other leagues handle these situations, and we hope that it's a constructive one.
It's also worth noting that the Cowboys find themselves dealing with such issues often; it was only two seasons ago that they gave Hardy a job, despite his extensive background of domestic violence. Perhaps consequences on the field will be a wakeup call, although Dallas' extraordinarily talented offensive line can mitigate some of the drop-off that will come in Elliott's absence during the early part of the season.
This unit looks largely the same as the one that catapulted Darren McFadden to 1,000 rushing yards in just 10 starts in 2014. McFadden remains in the backfield, now joined by Pro Bowl tailback Alfred Morris and Super Bowl champion Ronnie Hillman. None possesses the entirety of Elliott's skill set, but Dallas can mix and match the remaining trio.
Of course, the Cowboys can turn to quarterback Dak Prescott to contribute more field-tilting plays of his own. Prescott played mostly within himself during the first month of his rookie year, leaning heavily on Elliott and focusing on safe, consistent passes to keep defenses honest. As the season wore on, Prescott's responsibilities expanded, eventually building chemistry with All-Pro wideout Dez Bryant. Now with a second offseason under his belt, Prescott should prove even better equipped to conduct the Dallas offense.
The Cowboys' early schedule helps their efforts to compete minus Elliott, as well. Over the first six games of the season, they play only two teams that reached the playoffs a year ago (Giants and Packers), and both are at home.
But how well the Cowboys perform over the first six weeks is of secondary concern. Another NFL superstar has become embroiled in a domestic violence controversy, shining a spotlight on a troubling and pervasive problem that the league seems yet to fully grasp. With an appeal and potential courtroom battle on the horizon, the focus on Elliott's off-the-field issues might just have begun.