Gi­ant reper­cus­sions with Zeke on side­lines

New York Daily News - - SPORTS - PAT LEONARD

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.

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