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Ezekiel Elliott will play Week 1 against Giants despite suspension being upheld

The NFL admitted in court that the Cowboys’ star running back would be able to suit up for the opener.

Indianapolis Colts v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Ezekiel Elliott will be playing the Cowboys’ season opener against the New York Giants, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Elliott was suspended six games after the NFL investigated domestic violence incidents that Elliott was not charged with a crime for. The NFL says it found “credible evidence” that Elliott used physical force on the woman involved. On Tuesday, that decision was upheld by arbitrator Harold Henderson.

After Elliott filed his appeal, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appointed Henderson to handle the case. Henderson had previously presided over Greg Hardy’s and Adrian Peterson’s appeals. Hardy saw his suspension reduced from 10 games to four, and Peterson’s was upheld.

So why is Ezekiel Elliott playing Sunday?

According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, “The NFL’s position in this particular case because of the timing, because of everything that’s going on, Ezekiel Elliott will not be suspended Week 1.”

The NFL conceded that because of a lack of decision in the NFLPA and Elliott’s lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Texas not coming until Friday, it would allow Elliott to play on Sunday:

The Cowboys benefit, even if it’s just one game.

Having Elliott on Sunday night is big for the Cowboys. They’ll be facing a division foe that handed them two of their three regular season losses last year. The Giants are expected to be one of the bigger contenders to the NFC East throne this season, too.

Elliott played his first career game against the Giants and had 20 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown. His second performance in December was better, with 107 yards on the ground.

The Cowboys’ offensive line is still arguably the best in the NFL, and Elliott’s backups, Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, are both capable of getting yards. But the Cowboys’ offense is more intimidating with Elliott, last season’s league-leading rusher, on the field:

What about after Week 1?

If the judge rules against the NFLPA, Elliott is slated to miss Weeks 2-8, including the Cowboys’ bye week. He’ll be out for games against the Broncos, Cardinals, Rams, Packers, 49ers, and Washington. That’s not exactly the easiest slate of games, with the Rams and 49ers being the only bottom-tier teams.

The Cowboys have kept three extra running backs on the roster knowing that Elliott would likely be missing an extended period of time. McFadden, Morris, and Rod Smith are all available to the Cowboys, and have gotten plenty of reps during the preseason. However, McFadden will get the bulk of the work for the Cowboys.

“We’re just going to prepare for the Giants, and Zeke will practice until someone tells him not to,” Jason Garrett said Monday. “And the other guys will get ready to play.”

But for now, the Cowboys are only thinking about Sunday:

Elliott’s case is still being fought.

Last week, the NFLPA filed for a restraining order to block on the suspension. The decision is supposed to be made by 6 p.m. ET Friday. The restraining order would delay Elliott’s suspension until his lawsuit against the NFL has been carried out.

One of the passages in the lawsuit states, “Elliott and the Union were subjected to an arbitration process in which, among other things, there was a League-orchestrated conspiracy by senior NFL executives, including NFL Senior Vice President and Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel, to hide critical information, which would completely exonerate Elliott.”

Elliott’s lawyers echoed that sentiment after Henderson upheld his suspension:

So while his appeal was denied, and we know he’s going to play on Sunday, this is far from the last that you will be hearing from in this case.