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Ezekiel Elliott could begin 6-game suspension after appellate court sides with NFL

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This is far from over.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The latest motion in Ezekiel Elliott and the NFL Players Association’s legal battle with the NFL has been decided. A three-judge panel for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans sided with the NFL and granted a stay for the injunction that was delaying Elliott’s six-game suspension.

The court’s decision also ordered the district court that issued the injunction to drop Elliott’s case entirely. The NFLPA asked the court to recall that mandate, and the court denied that motion on Tuesday.

The NFLPA filed a new motion on Monday for an emergency temporary restraining order with a New York federal court, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. If granted, Elliott’s suspension will be delayed once again.

The court sided with the NFL in a split decision because it determined that the district court that issued the stay did not have subject matter jurisdiction. The appellate court also ordered the district court to dismiss the case filed by Elliott’s representatives, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero said.

After the decision was announced, the NFL said that Elliott would serve his suspension “immediately” and could return to the Cowboys on Friday, Nov. 24, according to Ian Rapoport. Elliott was handed the suspension after a year-long investigation into domestic violence allegations made against him in July 2016.

On Thursday, Elliott’s legal team said they were still deciding on the next step.

“We are currently exploring all of our legal options and will make a decision as to what is the best course of action in the next few days,” Elliott’s lawyer Frank Salzano said, via Rapoport. The NFLPA also released a statement saying it was “considering all options.” The statement also said, “The appellate court decision focuses on the jurisdictional issues. The failures of due process by the NFL articulated in the district court's decision were not addressed.”

On Friday, the NFLPA said it will ask for an en banc hearing, which would put the case before all of the circuit court’s judges instead of a three-judge panel. The players’ association also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order with the district court in New York that heard Tom Brady’s Deflategate case.

The Cowboys have a bye in Week 6, giving them more time to fight this latest decision in court.

Goodell issued the six-game suspension, the baseline for a first-time domestic violence offender under the personal conduct policy, at the conclusion of the league’s investigation.

Elliott was asked about the pending motion after the Cowboys’ loss to the Packers on Sunday. He declined to comment.

What’s happened so far?

After NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the six-game suspension in August, Elliott’s camp appealed to the league. The appeal was centered around concerns about the credibility of Elliott’s accuser. Goodell appointed an arbitrator, Harold Henderson, to hear the appeal. Before Henderson reached a decision — but after he heard the appeal — the NFLPA, expecting the worst, filed a lawsuit against the league in a federal court in Texas.

The NFLPA was right to expect an unfavorable outcome. Henderson upheld Elliott’s suspension, and Elliott’s representatives petitioned Judge Amos Mazzant in the Eastern District Court of Texas for an emergency injunction that would lift Elliott’s suspension until a decision was reached on the court case. Mazzant ruled in favor of the NFLPA, saying in his decision that the NFL did not give Elliott a “fundamentally fair hearing.” That allowed Elliott to continue playing.

The league has been unwilling to live with that decision. The NFL appealed to Mazzant with an emergency motion for a stay of the injunction. Mazzant is the one who issued the decision on the injunction, and it would be unusual for a judge to overturn his own ruling. So the league also took its motion to the 5th Circuit appellate court as a backup plan, claiming Mazzant lacked jurisdiction.

Mazzant did, in fact, deny the league’s emergency motion. A hearing was held on Monday, Oct. 2 in New Orleans before a three-judge panel, which granted the league’s motion.

What does this mean for Elliott?

He may have to serve his suspension, effective immediately, depending on the outcome to the NFLPA’s rehearing motion.

The NFLPA could also file a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, according to sports and gaming attorney Daniel Wallach.

It will likely raise questions about the league’s standard of credible evidence and whether the commissioner applied it fairly when evaluating Elliott’s case.

That’s the question both the NFLPA and the NFL are seeking to have answered through the federal courts. It’s not a question of what Elliott did or did not do. It’s a labor law issue surrounding Goodell’s power over player discipline and whether or not he is wielding it in a way that is consistent with the personal conduct policy and the current collective bargaining agreement.

What does this mean for the NFL?

It’s a big win for Goodell and the league. The initial decision from Mazzant challenged Goodell’s authority, and the outcome of this case could have a sweeping impact on player discipline in the future.

What happens next?

Elliott’s side has filed for a temporary restraining order in New York federal court. If that’s granted, it will be in effect for 14 days. It’s possible that they could get another injunction before the Cowboys return from the bye in Week 7, but this is the same court that determined Goodell had the authority to suspend Tom Brady.

We’re probably in for more appeals, more bickering, and probably several months of this back and forth in federal court between the NFL and the NFLPA, on Elliott’s behalf.