"When in doubt, make them sit out."
That's not the NFL's motto when it comes to player discipline (at least not that I know of). But, especially as it relates to issues of alleged domestic abuse, perhaps it should be.
It would be if I were in commissioner Roger Goodell's shoes, that's for sure.
That doesn't mean the NFL should haphazardly be suspending any player who is accused of committing any crime of that nature. Not at all. While the league has shown inconsistency when it comes to discipline in recent years, I don't believe the NFL is interested in suspending players just because they can. That wouldn't be good for business, either.
After receiving criticism for the way the league handled the Ray Rice case -- among other domestic violence-related issues in the past -- the NFL has been more thorough in investigating such cases recently. Reasonable minds can disagree as to whether a sports league should be in the investigation business at all, but the reality is it is. Whether that's strictly for public relations purposes or a sincere interest in getting things right is up for debate.
Ezekiel Elliott is arguably the best player on the Dallas Cowboys (aka America's Team). The NFL can't be happy that, for the next few years at least and possibly for Elliott's entire career, every time one of the league's marquee franchises is on national television -- which is quite often, by the way -- many people will think first and foremost about the fact that their star running back was suspended six games by the NFL because of allegations that he assaulted a woman.
While I believe Goodell made the decision he thought was right, you have to think, in the wake of Rice, that he will always lean toward being perceived to be harsher on discipline as opposed to lighter moving forward.
If he is perceived to be too harsh, then only one team, fan base and owner will be upset with him.
If he is thought to go too light on a domestic violence incident again, it could create another crisis in confidence from the public as it relates to the NFL and put Goodell's job in jeopardy.
When you put from that self-preservation perspective, it's not a very tough decision to make: Either possibly get fired or have one football player miss 2-4 more games than some people think he should?
That's the simplest equation in the book.
"I think Goodell might have thought 'Jerry's [Jones, the Cowboys owner] going to be upset either way. We might as well push it all the way the other direction,'" Mike Florio, a former lawyer who owns and runs the popular ProFootballTalk.com website told me on my podcast this week. "On the one hand, Jerry Jones is a very influential owner. Onn the other hand, the NFL would have a very real PR problem."
Florio is exactly right. For so many reasons, being considered overly punitive, if anything, was the way to go for Goodell.
Plus, Elliott really didn't help himself by pulling a woman's top down on video or allegedly being involved in a bar brawl a few weeks ago. Any chance at getting the benefit of the doubt went out the window with those two incidents, and rightfully so.
The guess here is that this will be the standard operating procedure for Goodell and the NFL as it relates to player discipline, especially as it relates to crimes of violence against women.
When in doubt, the NFL is going to lean toward making players sit out lengthy suspensions, even if there has been no legal punishment or even if charges haven't been filed formally.
It's the much better short- and long-term business decision for an entity that is always looking out for what's best for the "shield."
And it sends a very loud and clear message moving forward to Elliott, all the other NFL players and even fans of the game.