A federal judge denied the NFL Players Association's request for a preliminary injunction in the Ezekiel Elliott case Monday, meaning the Dallas Cowboys running back's six-game suspension will be reinstated.
U.S. District Court Judge Katherine P. Failla's ruling bars Elliott from playing once the 24-hour stay on her decision expires Tuesday. Failla issued the stay in order to give Elliott's legal team time to consider their appeal options.
Unless his lawyers manage to get the suspension lifted again, Elliott will miss the next six games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Redskins and New York Giants before being eligible to play in Week 15 against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 17.
In her ruling, Failla found the NFLPA failed to establish, among other things, the allegations of fundamental unfairness it raised against the NFL after Elliott's ban was upheld in arbitration under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
"While reasonable minds could differ on the evidentiary decisions made by the arbitrator, the proceedings in their totality accorded with the CBA and the [personal conduct policy] -- and, to the extent such an inquiry applies, with precepts of fundamental fairness," Failla wrote. "The arbitrator gave Mr. Elliott ample opportunity, in terms of both proceedings and evidence, to challenge the Commissioner's decision before the arbitrator; the arbitrator's ultimate decision against Mr. Elliott does not render these proceedings any less fair."
Failla also found that the steps the NFL undertook in suspending Elliott fell in line with federal labor laws and cited the Tom Brady Deflategate case repeatedly for establishing precedent in "rejecting arguments similar to those here."
"Having negotiated with the NFLPA over the terms of a particular CBA, the NFL has an interest in obtaining the benefit of its bargain -- an interest that might well be eroded if courts such as this one were permitted to micromanage the disciplinary decisions of the commissioner," Failla wrote.
Elliott's chances of returning to the field are growing smaller, but he still has legal options. His most obvious option would be to request an emergency stay with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to NFL Network legal analyst Gabe Feldman. Under that scenario, Elliott could still miss one or more games before a ruling.
As NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported, Elliott's 14-day window to file for a full-court rehearing -- also known as a rehearing en banc -- with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has expired. He could request for a rehearing "out of time" with the 5th Circuit, court case manager Amanda Sutton-Foy told Pelissero. Full-panel rehearings, however, are rare. The 5th Circuit granted six en banc rehearings out of 200 petitions last year, according to Feldman. The 2nd Circuit rejected Brady's en banc request during Deflategate.
Elliott and the union also could try to re-file an amended case with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, but success there also would be a long shot, according to Feldman.
The decision to not grant a preliminary injunction comes two weeks after the same court granted the union's request for a temporary restraining order that put Elliott's suspension on hold. Failla turned down the NFL's request for an expedited hearing last week, which allowed the second-year running back to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins under the TRO. Elliott's suspension has gone into effect two previous times this season, but he hasn't missed a game.
Elliott was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in August following a year-long investigation into domestic violence allegations made by Tiffany Thompson, his former girlfriend. The league concluded he violated its personal conduct policy, which mandates a six-game suspension for first-time domestic violence violations. Elliott, 22, was never charged and has denied wrongdoing.
In his first comments following Failla's ruling, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Elliott's situation was a result of an "overcorrection" by the league following the Ray Rice case in 2014.
"The ruling has more to do with the scope of the commissioner's authority and not really bearing on whether Zeke is guilty of domestic violence or not," Jones told 105.3 FM The Fan, per The Dallas Morning News. "That's where this stuff gets so convoluted, let's say. I am very troubled by the swings that we've had, that in this very thing the judge in this case ratified for the commissioner, but his swing of judgement has been unbelievable from the Ray Rice thing from one to two games all the way up to a six-game suspension when you truly have got a debate.
"Even this judge said that it shows reasonable people could possibly come down on both sides of this. Well, in our legal system it has to be stronger than that for someone to have done it. We all know that we weren't there to see it, but I do have every point of contention on both sides and in our system in this country Zeke would not have any issue here as to his workplace. I emphasize that because there's a difference in that and law.
"But I will tell you with the knowledge I have, the circumstances aren't treating him fair. Two years ago, this wouldn't be an issue."
The NFLPA's lawsuit, which was filed on the same day Elliott's appeal hearing ended, doesn't try to undermine the factual conclusions from the NFL's investigation -- it challenges the process the league undertook to suspend Elliott, Feldman said. The NFL wants to enforce Elliott's suspension this season and confirm Goodell's authority to issue punishment based on "conduct detrimental" to the league as mandated in Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement.
It's virtually the same argument the NFL deployed in ultimately successful appeals against Brady during Deflategate and Adrian Peterson after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.
Still, there could be a long way to go before a final decision is made on Elliott's case.