Giant repercussions with Zeke on sidelines
No Ezekiel Elliott for six weeks would give the Giants an advantage in their battle for the NFC East. If Elliott’s suspension is upheld on appeal, or his legal team can’t complete a Hail Mary, the Cowboys’ running back will miss the Giants’ Week 1 Sunday night game at Dallas on Sept. 10.
But interestingly enough, star Giant defenders Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon both expressed empathy for Elliott more than pleasure in his plight after Friday night’s 20-12 preseason loss to the Steelers. In other words, they weren’t rooting for Elliott to be sidelined; they’d rather face him on the field.
Vernon was especially direct in his support of a fellow player.
“I mean, hopefully he’s not suspended, man, so he can play,” Vernon said of the Giants’ Week 1 visit to Dallas. “I don’t know if he did anything wrong, I don’t believe he did. If he said he didn’t do anything wrong, he should be able to play. But we’ll see. That’s not my call.”
Collins, meanwhile, told the News he and Elliott have a friendship built on mutual respect. He saw Elliott a couple of times in Miami this offseason and said he “always tell(s) him to keep his head up and be strong.”
“I hope he appeals and gets three, or two,” Collins said. “I definitely want to see him shine. Six games is definitely a lot. It’s a lot to bounce back from. And he’s a great player.”
That said, Collins acknowledged what the Cowboys would be losing without Elliott available, even with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris as his backups.
“(Elliott) is one of their key difference-makers, and if they lost him for the first game it’s gonna be real difficult to start a run,” Collins said. “With McFadden, it depends on how he fills in that day and how he’s running, if that line gets him holes. But Zeke was a big factor with how they established their game last year.”
The run-heavy Cowboys wouldn’t just be short-handed against the Giants, either. They would miss him also in visits to Denver, Arizona and San Francisco, and home games against the L.A. Rams and Green Bay Packers. Plus, the Cowboys wouldn’t play the Philadelphia Eagles or Washington without Elliott, so the Giants would be the NFC East challenger with the most to gain.
It’s not like the Giants need Elliott to sit to beat the ’Boys: Big Blue swept Dallas in two meetings by a combined four points last season with Elliott healthy for both games. But the Cowboys won the NFC East anyway behind rookie sensations Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott, thanks primarily to the best offensive line in the league and Elliott’s league-leading 1,631 rushing yards.
The question is whether Elliott will serve his suspension to start the regular season. The Patriots’ Tom Brady was initially suspended for allegedly deflating footballs prior to the 2015 season, for example, but his case dragged through the courts until finally he served a four-game suspension to start 2016.
Elliott is short on time to delay a suspension if his pending appeal of the suspension, which his attorneys already announced, is denied. The NFL on Friday announced his sanctions with less than a month remaining before the Cowboys’ season-opener, and the chances that Elliott’s full case could be prepared and heard in time to then have a judge rule in his favor are not great.
Here’s how it works: The NFL is required to schedule a hearing to review Elliott’s appeal within 10 days. Elliott’s legal team clearly believes it can win an appeal, based on a statement in response on Friday that said “the NFL’s findings are replete with factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions and it ‘cherry picks’ so called evidence to support its conclusion while ignoring critical evidence.” Either commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee of Goodell’s choosing would hear the appeal.
Elliott released his own statement late Friday, saying: “I am both surprised and disappointed by the NFL’s decision today, and I strongly disagree with the League’s findings. I recognize the distraction and disruption that all of this has caused my family, friends, teammates, the Dallas Cowboys organization as well as my fans — for that I am sincerely sorry. I admit that I am far from perfect, but I plan to continue to work very hard, on and off the field, to mature and earn the great opportunity that I have been given.”
Even if Elliott wins an appeal, the odds would be against Elliott reducing his suspension from six games to zero in order to dress against the Giants in Week 1. On the other hand, if Elliott loses his appeal, that might present the potential for him to delay the suspension.
At that point, Elliott’s attorneys could seek a “preliminary injunction” in the event they can prove to a judge that Elliott was either deprived of access to information, or the procedure was unfair, or there was bias in the NFL’s ruling.
If a judge were to grant an injunction, then that could delay the suspension as Elliott’s case is either heard during the season or deferred. But again, in order to play against the Giants in Week 1, Elliott would have to accomplish all of this in less than a month.
And that’s why it’s hard for the Giants to come out of this anything but winners, with an edge on their primary rival, in the race for Big Blue’s first NFC East title since 2011 and the franchise’s fifth Lombardi Trophy.