An arbitrator has upheld a six-game suspension for Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, but the timing of the decision will allow Elliott to play this Sunday in Week 1.
The Cowboys face the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium in Arlington to open the regular season on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" Sept. 10.
At the start of the hearing Tuesday, NFL attorney Daniel Nash told the judge it was "his understanding" that Elliott could play Sunday night against the New York Giants because the league didn't want to rush the judge.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Sherman, Texas, plans to rule by Friday afternoon on a motion from the NFL to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of Elliott by the NFL Players Association that challenges the league's suspension.
If the federal court decides to hear the NFLPA's lawsuit, Elliott's possible suspension could be postponed, as it was with Tom Brady's "Deflategate" case. If the court grants the NFL's dismissal, Elliott will be immediately subject to the NFL's discipline.
The motion filed Monday claims that a federal court lacks the jurisdiction to vacate a suspension imposed by the NFL. The motion also counters the NFLPA's assertion that the NFL's ruling is damaging to Elliott.
U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant said he would rule on Elliott's request for a temporary restraining order by Friday. If the request is denied and no further legal action taken, Elliott's suspension would start in Week 2 at Denver. He would be eligible to return Nov. 5 against Kansas City.
"We are extremely disappointed with Mr. Henderson's inability to navigate through league politics, and follow the evidence, and, most importantly, his (sic) conscience," attorneys Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum said in a statement released after the hearing.
Henderson said in his ruling that the NFL complied with its personal conduct policy in punishing Elliott and rejected any claims that Elliott's attorneys presented new evidence at the appeal.
"In a case involving violation of a policy, fair and consistent means whether the process and result were in compliance with the terms of that policy," Henderson wrote. "This one is, in every respect."
After Henderson's ruling, the NFL filed a lawsuit asking a federal court in New York to enforce Elliott's suspension. The Southern District of New York falls under the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which last year backed Goodell's four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady over Deflategate.
Elliott was suspended after the league investigated and concluded he used physical force last summer against former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson in Ohio. Prosecutors didn't pursue the case, citing conflicting evidence.
The NFL's personal conduct policy was amended three years ago to stiffen penalties in domestic cases.
The NFLPA sued the NFL on behalf of Elliott Thursday seeking to vacate the ruling of arbitrator Harold Henderson on the appeal of Elliott's six-game suspension. The lawsuit accuses the NFL's appeal process of being "fundamentally unfair" after Henderson denied a request to have Elliott's ex-girlfriend testify at the hearing.
The lawsuit also accuses NFL special counsel Lisa Friel of withholding from commissioner Roger Goodell the word of co-lead investigator Kia Roberts, who the suit says concluded that the accuser wasn't credible and that Goodell's discipline wasn't warranted.
"Presumably, the commissioner would have reached a very different disciplinary conclusion — one of exoneration and no discipline — had he known about the evidence which Friel and other unidentified, high-ranking NFL executives chose to conceal from the disciplinary process," the lawsuit said.
In a statement released after the arbitrator's ruling Tuesday evening, Elliott's attorneys said they were "extremely disappointed with Mr. Henderson's inability to navigate through league politics, and follow the evidence."