FRISCO, Texas — A federal appeals court cleared the way Thursday for the NFL to impose a six-game suspension on Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott over domestic violence allegations, siding with the league in the latest high-profile fight over its ability to punish players for off-field behavior.
In a 2-1 decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans granted the league’s emergency request to set aside an injunction and ordered a district court in Texas to dismiss Elliott’s case.
The case may not be done yet and further appeals were possible. One of Elliott’s attorneys, Frank Salzano, told ESPN’s Todd Archer they are “currently exploring all of our legal options and will make a decision as to what is the best course of action in the next few days.”
Elliott’s suspension begins immediately, a league spokesman told ESPN’s Dan Graziano. He will not be eligible to return to the Cowboys’ active roster until Week 13 against Washington.
The Cowboys (2-3) have a bye this weekend. If Elliott’s legal team can’t put the suspension on hold again, he would miss games against the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers.
Elliott played the first five games while the case was in the courts. He rushed for 393 yards on 105 carries, an average of just 3.7 yards. He led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards last season as a rookie.
A federal judge in Texas had issued an injunction that blocked the suspension last month, agreeing with NFL Players Association attorneys who argued that the investigation of allegations in Ohio and a subsequent appeal were unfair to Elliott.
The NFL countered that it followed procedures under the league’s labor deal and that the union improperly filed a lawsuit before the appeals process was complete.
The most likely destination for further legal challenges from players’ union attorneys representing Elliott is the Southern District of New York. The NFL filed in that federal court after Elliott’s NFL appeal was denied by arbitrator Harold Henderson last month. But a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Elliott’s lawyers have the option of still refiling in Dallas or fighting the suspension in New York, a decision they are discussing now.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Elliott in August after the league concluded — following a yearlong investigation — that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time. Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case, citing conflicting evidence.
Elliott’s legal team filed a lawsuit on his behalf in the Eastern District of Texas before Henderson had rejected the appeal.
The NFL had already agreed to let Elliott play in the season opener before his request for an injunction was granted by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant in Sherman, north of Dallas. Henderson ruled against Elliott the same day Mazzant heard arguments over the injunction.
The NFL filed in the New York court because it is the home of league headquarters and was the site of Elliott’s appeal hearing with Henderson.
In the Elliott case, league attorneys wrote to the 5th Circuit that the union’s lawsuit had resulted in “hopelessly doomed proceedings” that shouldn’t continue.
The NFLPA has argued that Mazzant had jurisdiction because Elliott exhausted his appeal before filing the lawsuit when Henderson rejected requests for the testimony of Goodell and Thompson. Elliott’s attorneys also say the NFL violated the labor deal by withholding key information from Goodell and Elliott’s representatives.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.