NEW YORK -- Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott's seemingly endless string of legal timeouts ran out Thursday, when a three-judge panel with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals swiftly denied his request for another injunction, allowing the NFL to enforce his six-game suspension immediately.
Elliott's remaining options for getting the suspension put on hold a fourth time are considered long shots. So, as he prepares for the likelihood he'll sit beginning with Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons -- and most likely beyond, with a hearing in his broader appeal not scheduled until Dec. 1 -- there is fallout on several fronts.
What it means for the Dallas Cowboys
They're 5-3, 2.5 games back of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, and just lost the focal point of their offense for what's likely to be an extended period. I was getting texts within minutes of the decision from people with other NFL teams, hoping this means they won't see Elliott later this season. (Perhaps the most entertaining point in Thursday's hearing came when Judge Christopher Droney went back and forth with NFL attorney Paul Clement about whether it's better or worse for Dallas to lose Elliott now, as opposed to earlier in the season.) The cupboard isn't bare at running back, with Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith on the depth chart, but none of them are Elliott, whom my annual survey of NFL executives last year pegged as the MVP. Even behind that Cowboys O-line, and even with quarterback Dak Prescott playing well, Elliott's absence is a big deal.
What it means for Ezekiel Elliott
He'll lose $93,178 for each game missed and is subject to bonus forfeiture (though it seems highly unlikely owner Jerry Jones would pursue that, given his very strong and public support of Elliott). It'll also be harder for Elliott to pursue another rushing title and earn postseason honors if he serves the full six games -- an impact that, his legal team has argued repeatedly in court, would constitute irreparable harm, should he serve his suspension while the case plays out. Elliott's appellate attorney, Andrew Tulumello, pointed out three federal judges have agreed with that stance in delaying the suspension before. However, three judges also had ruled against Elliott before Thursday, when the panel joined them. There also is, of course, harm to Elliott's brand and reputation from the domestic violence allegations that led to the NFL investigation and subsequent suspension. The court case is about the process through which an arbitrator upheld the suspension, not whether Elliott is guilty or innocent, but serving time makes it seem less like vindication even if the courts eventually rule in his favor.
What it means for other NFL players
Thursday's ruling showed exactly why the NFL wanted this case to play out in the Southern District of New York rather than in Texas, where the NFL Players Association filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of Elliott that eventually was thrown out by a different appeals court. In the Texas case, Judge Amos Mazzant made a point of saying in court he wasn't bound by the decision in the Tom Brady Deflategate case, in which a legal challenge to a suspension of the Patriots quarterback ultimately resulted in the suspension going into effect. Not so in the 2nd Circuit, where Judge Dennis Jacobs' first question Thursday referenced the Brady case -- precedent on a similar issue, in the same court, regarding the same collective bargaining agreement at issue in Elliott's case. The NFLPA has been arguing in all these cases that Commissioner Roger Goodell is overstepping his authority under the CBA and that the process is fundamentally unfair, but once again, the commissioner's power over discipline has been reaffirmed. Right or wrong, that sends a strong message to other players that Goodell will use that power and the courts have his back, in part because the bar is extremely high for intervening in labor disputes.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.