A federal appeals court granted the NFL Players Association a brief administrative stay in the Ezekiel Elliott case on Friday, reinstating the Dallas Cowboys running back's eligibility for Sunday's game against the Chiefs.
The stay request approved by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals only guarantees Elliott's eligibility through Sunday, meaning he will be suspended again heading into Week 10 unless the court extends the stay. There's a chance the 2nd Circuit could grant the union's request for an emergency injunction next week. If it does so, Elliott would have his playing eligibility restored while the court reviews the NFLPA's appeal of Elliott's six-game suspension, according to NFL Network legal analyst Gabe Feldman.
The court has yet to schedule a hearing date for the NFLPA's injunction request, but the expedited motion has been referred to the next available three-judge panel.
"Although it's not a ruling on the merits, it's still a huge victory for Elliott because it shows a willingness to do something that [U.S. District Court] Judge [Katherine] Failla wasn't willing to do, and that's allow him to play while this winds its way through the court," Feldman said.
Unless his lawyers manage to get the suspension lifted again, Elliott will miss the next six games after Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Redskins, New York Giants and Oakland Raiders before being eligible to play in Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 24.
Depending on how the case plays out in court, there is a chance Elliott's suspension could carry over into the postseason. An NFL spokesman confirmed to NFL.com that if Elliott's ban is active and not fully served by the end of the regular season, he would be suspended for any applicable playoff games.
"If he wins the injunction, if he's allowed to play pending the outcome of the appeal, it's most likely he plays the rest of the season," Feldman said. "We still have a long way to go. All we know for sure is he will play this Sunday, and there's a possibility he will play the rest of the season, but everything is still in doubt until the three-judge panel hears the case."
Elliott was not eligible to practice Wednesday or Thursday, but he did practice Friday in preparation for Sunday's game, coach Jason Garrett told reporters. As NFL Network's Jane Slater reported, the Cowboys were preparing as if Elliott would not play this week, with Alfred Morris set to start at running back.
"We'll make sure he's ready to go," Garrett said. "I anticipate him playing this ball game. ... He's a smart guy, he knows our system, and he'll pick up things quickly this week."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Elliott in August after a year-long investigation into domestic violence allegations made against him by Tiffany Thompson, his former girlfriend. The NFL concluded he violated its personal conduct policy, which mandates a six-game suspension for a first-time domestic violence violation. Elliott, 22, was never charged and has denied wrongdoing.
"This is bigger than a suspension, this is bigger than football," Elliott told Slater and other reporters after Friday's practice. "It's them trying to make something that I'm not. I'm not an abuser, that's not who I am. This is my name, this is my reputation, something that I'll have to live with beyond football. So every day is worth fighting."
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 Tom Brady during Deflategate and Adrian Peterson after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault. The 2nd Circuit is the same court that made the final decision in the Brady case.
As for Elliott, he said he's ready to play Sunday despite the limited practice time this week.
"...It's always feels good to get a couple days to take a load off," Elliott said. "Especially after that game where I got a heavy load last Sunday. So I think it'll help me more having those couple days off just because I'm fresh. I feel fresh."