Let me start off by saying that as of writing this (Wednesday, August 30th), Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension is still in the appeal process. We are currently under the impression that the appeal will wrap up Thursday, and we can expect a ruling on the suspension before Week 1 kicks off. However, at this point, information is sparse and we are largely speculating. But the way I see it, there are four primary outcomes possible for Elliott.
The recent Elliott suspension was due to a combination of violating the league’s domestic violence policy, as well as “conduct detrimental to the league”. He has maintained his innocence from the beginning of the entire process, and that tune has yet to change. Former NFL employee Harold Henderson will be hearing Zeke’s appeal, appointed to do so by commissioner Goodell. Henderson’s two most notable rulings involve Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy. Henderson chose to uphold Adrian Peterson’s indefinite suspension stemming from child abuse allegations. Surprisingly, Henderson chose to reduce Greg Hardy’s suspension for domestic violence from 10 games to four. Many have speculated regarding how “impartial” Henderson is, but for now, he’s the man in charge of Elliott’s appeal process.
Option 1: Elliott serves entire suspension beginning Week 1
This currently seems to be the most likely outcome. The NFL believes they have “substantial and persuasive evidence” indicating that Elliott did indeed violate the NFL’s conduct policy. At this point, we know the NFL operates strangely in these processes, but it’s what we’ve got to work with. The NFL effectively has the power to act as judge, jury, and executioner in matters like this. We know Elliott’s team of lawyers is highly unlikely to just accept the suspension as it is, so if Zeke is to serve the full six games, it won’t be without a fight.
Given that this currently appears to be the most likely case, Zeke drafters must simply try to weather the storm until his return. If you can even go .500 in his absence, you’ll be in a great spot getting a top three running back returning to your team late in the fantasy regular season.
Option 2: Elliott sees reduced suspension beginning Week 1
Henderson has shown a willingness to reduce suspensions before. Former Cowboy Greg Hardy saw his own domestic violence suspension cut by more than half, and the evidence against Hardy certainly seemed damning. Unfortunately for Elliott, the NFL’s policy on domestic violence indicates a mandatory six game suspension. It would be a potentially dangerous PR move for the NFL to reduce the suspension of a player accused of domestic violence, even if the ruling didn’t come directly from them.
This suspension will not be reduced below four games. If I were strictly thinking as an Elliott owner, this would probably be my preferred outcome. Yes, he still misses games. But it’s not the full six, we would know which games they would be, and when to expect him back.
Option 3: Elliott faces suspension, NOT beginning Week 1
In this scenario, Elliott serves his suspension, reduced or otherwise, but it does not begin in Week 1. In this context, Zeke would be allowed to play while either Henderson or another judge decides his fate. This would take place if Henderson could not make a decision at all, or in due time and Elliott was granted the ability to play while he awaits a ruling. It’s splitting hairs, but I see this as slightly more likely than Elliott pushing his suspension back an entire season. Also, Dallas news presenter Sports Day believes that the ruling may not come until after the season opener.
This is probably the WORST case scenario for Elliott owners. It would leave your fantasy roster in limbo, unsure if you need to be burning a roster spot on Darren McFadden, or running the risk of missing out on McFadden in the event the suspension does eventually come down at some point.
Option 4: Elliott does not serve his suspension in 2017
Obviously, this is the best bet for redraft owners of Zeke. Elliott could choose to go the route of Tom Brady and the Deflategate suspension. Tom Brady was granted an injunction, and his suspension wasn’t served the season it was originally set for.
It sounds like this is an unlikely case for Zeke, given the precedent set in Brady’s case. The legal standard for an injunction took a major hit following Deflategate. Tom Brady received protections in his case that aren’t explicitly written in the CBA. A federal court voided these unwritten protections, making it very unlikely they would be granted to Elliott. The injunction route is unlikely, but Elliott’s legal team could potentially argue regarding missteps in the NFL’s investigation.
In the end, this would obviously be the best case for Zeke owners. This would be a roller coaster for owners though. Not knowing when, or if, the suspension will come down would make week to week fantasy life uncomfortable. It wouldn’t be as easy and kind on your fantasy roster as you’d expect. Such an outcome seems highly unlikely, but cannot be ruled out entirely.
Elliott owners’ are best off to just keep an ear to the ground as this process continues. We are getting new information every day. Some have speculated that we could have a ruling as early as Friday, September 1st. Even if Henderson makes a ruling by then, it feels like this process still won’t quite be over. Listening and waiting for more info is all we can do for now. Consider handcuffing Zeke by checking our article on the Cowboys’ Training Camp Preview to determine if Darren McFadden will be the fill-in replacement for Zeke during his looming suspension.