Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Aug 2017

Ezekiel Elliott Suspended Six Games

I'm not even sure where to start with this. I'm all for punishing domestic violence, but players with much stronger evidence against them (i.e. Josh Brown) got much shorter suspensions. Also, we're talking about an incident from before Elliott's rookie year. How on earth did the NFL investigation drag on for over a year? Why is this suspension being announced now? Of course, Elliott can now appeal... that would probably be heard before the season starts but it could reduce the suspension to four games, or two games, or who the hell knows, because NFL punishment is completely arbitrary.

Link now changed to go to the official NFL statement about the suspension.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 11 Aug 2017

37 comments, Last at 18 Aug 2017, 8:48am by Daniel2772


by billprudden :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:37pm

I'm still waiting for somebody to explain to me how Terrell Pryor was suspended by the NFL for violating NCAA rules...

by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:43pm

Everything the cartel does with regard to disciplining players for off the field behavior is done purely for public relations purposes. I wouldn't be surprised if they had all the relevant information last November, but by then the Cowboys were a serious contender, and you don't want suspend an important Cowboy as the playoff t.v. audiences await. Then, you dont't want to be transparent about your motivations, by issuing a suspension right after the season ends. Much better to wait until mid-August.

It also makes more sense to make a splash with an announced 6 gamer, and then knock it down.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 1:09pm

eys, esxpcet it to be dropped down to 3 games or 4 games of suspension.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 1:26pm

I'm not so sure.

When they first announced the DV policy after the blowback of only suspending Ray Rice for two games, the tally was set at a six game suspension. This is in line with that.

When Brady got suspended four games for deflategate, I was sure they'd set the tally high so they could cut it on appeal. But they didn't.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 3:17pm

If Brady hadn't fought for every inch in that dispute, they may have shaved a game or two.

by dryheat :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 11:55am

They also may not have, barring Brady going into a weeping fit of conscience and begging for forgiveness.

Scuttlebutt at the time was that Brady was willing to accept 2 games for destroying his phone, but Goodell wasn't interested in a reduction without an admission of "directing a conspiracy to illegally deflate footballs".

by Alternator :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 7:03pm

Herr Roger wasn't going to shave anything off unless Brady prostrated himself at Herr Roger's feet, begging for absolution and admitting that not only did he conspire to doctor footballs, but he also has been helping to hide Jimmy Hoffa.

by RickD :: Mon, 08/14/2017 - 5:13pm

If Brady had "confessed" to a false accusation, that would have validated the penalty. That's the only thing that might have led to a reduction in the penalty.

That's what Goodell was hoping for. Though probably not very much, since Goodell himself knew the charges were false. (You don't tell that many lies by accident, including a lie about the nature of Brady's sealed testimony.)

by dryheat :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 9:23pm

I don't see why (although that doesn't mean that it's impossible). Either Elliott assaulted the woman or he didn't. The NFL claims to be convince that he did and gave him 6 games. I can't imagine any mitigating factors that would make it a less severe penalty.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:51pm

Elliott gets more games than Josh Brown, because he's a bigger name, and this, like everything else, is a PR move for the league.

I do wish there was a camera on Jerry's face when he heard the news, though. Always entertaining to watch the plastic try to wrest itself into a visible emotion.

by willybhu :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:52pm

If this is part of the NFL's new emphasis on cracking down on domestic violence accusations, then this can be read as: the NFL will now be stricter on players engaging in domestic assault, and that the NFL will now inflict harsher punishments on evidence that may not be sufficient for formal charges, but which may lead to a conclusion that a domestic violence assault occurred more likely than not.

Unfortunately, there are still assholes in the league, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the NFL will continue down this track the next another case like this presents itself, and we'll see a similarly harsh punishment. It would make this a lot easier to digest if they'd be more transparent about their investigation and punishment process though, for sure.

by alljack :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:59pm

League discipline is designed to give a veneer of social responsibility when that responsibility is not actually required of league members, so the discipline is necessarily contingent and arbitrary.

by morganja :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 1:17pm

If we know anything about the NFL now, it's that his career is over. No owner will employ Elliot again no matter how long his suspension is. They are way too concerned about the PR to risk alienating their fans. What he did was much worse than not standing for the anthem.

When the Cowboys cut Ezekiel Elliot, as no doubt they will, do they still have to pay him or is his salary not guaranteed because of the quasi extra-judicial finding?

by RickD :: Mon, 08/14/2017 - 5:15pm

Adrian Peterson whipped his son's testicles and kept working.

NFL owners care primarily about production, well after fan reaction.

The Cowboys are the same franchise the hired Greg Hardy. Elliott is a sweetheart by comparison. He's also the best young RB in the league. His career is not over by any stretch of the imagination.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 08/14/2017 - 8:21pm

This. Marginal players would be rendered unemployable by less severe infractions. Superstars will continue to have jobs even if they do still worse things. Elliott is a superstar.

by t.d. :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 1:45pm

I haven't really followed the incident, but apparently there are texts from the accuser asking friends to lie for her and say that he hit her? Roger sure knows how to zag when everybody expects him to zig

by RickD :: Mon, 08/14/2017 - 5:23pm

"if they ask he dragged me out of the car"

By itself that's not a request for a lie, per se, if she was in fact dragged out of the car. Though the following questions raise doubt:

"Do you want me to lie about what happened that night bc zeke's lawyer is about to call me again?"

Combined with other affidavits stating the attack never happened and the fact that Elliott was never actually charged, the evidence here looks very thin.

It's quite possible nothing actually happened.

So why is Elliott getting punished? As Pats' fans have been saying for years, Goodell doesn't actually care about the reality of guilt or innocence. If somebody might be guilty, he'll punish the player, as long as he thinks that the choice better for the NFL's PR.

He really shouldn't be in charge of any system of player punishment. He is devoid of integrity.

by bingo762 :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 2:14pm

Goodell has made enemies of Robert Kraft and now Jerry Jones. Can't be good for job security

by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 3:15pm

Eh, Goodell's decision to hammer the Cowboys on the salary cap, after the last CBA,was a lot more significant than this. His decision to hammer the Patriots was undoubtedly popular with a large majority of owners. Goodell's faults are numerous, but inability to count to 24 ain't one of them.

by sbond101 :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 2:31pm

I have to say I really don't understand why the NFL does things like this. If there is anything we learned definitively from deflategte, bountygate, spygate, Ray Rice etc... it's that the NFL stinks at investigating things and generally comes to conclusions that reflect managements biases. To me, that seems like the perfect justification to let the criminal/civil justice system do it's job. It would create a nice clean line for the NFL, a criminal conviction = suspension, done, no need for the NFL to exercise judgement.
Disclaimer: I know almost nothing about the Elliot case except that it really bothers me that NFL players (and employees more broadly) seem to be exempt from the concept of innocent until proven guilty in these situations.

by stinkubus :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 6:30pm

This is kind of a silly take. There are all sorts of legal conduct which should rightfully get one fired.

by morganja :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 8:01pm

Not silly because:
1) The NFL is a closed cartel with near monopoly power over hiring;
2) The NFL has proven itself unreliable, arbitrary, incompetent and opaque in investigations.
3) The ability of an employer with monopoly powers and opaque process to abuse an employee is limitless.
4) The owners can't trust themselves. How long before Robert Kraft is planting a domestic abuse case against whoever he thinks is a threat to his team's winning?

by RickD :: Mon, 08/14/2017 - 5:29pm

And if the players' actual employers (the franchises) want to fire a player, it's certainly their right to do so. (Though as members of a union working under a CBA, the teams are somewhat constrained in that they cannot fire players "at will". They can fire a player for dropping off the depth chart but cannot fire one for missing voluntary OTAs, for example.)

The NFL isn't the employer of any of the players they discipline. They impose discipline in the function of a supposedly neutral arbitrator acting as a mediator between the cartel of owners and the players' union. But their impartiality is a joke. Futhermore, Goodell has appointed to himself the position of fact finder, a task at which he has shown he doesn't care to pursue with integrity. He works backward from the punishment he wants to impose to "find facts" that support his decision.

by Daniel2772 :: Fri, 08/18/2017 - 8:48am

Last time I checked the power the commissioner holds to discipline players was collectively bargained and agreed to by the NFLPA. The question is if players will be willing to forfeit a substantial portion of their compensation to curb that power in order to protect a very small percentage of their coworkers?

by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 9:05pm

"Innocent until proven guilty" hasn't been a part of our legal system for decades, since before anyone reading this forum was born.

Having to hire a lawyer in order to defend your innocence is a pretty enormous punishment in itself, for anyone making less than $30/hr

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 5:07am

I generally agree that it would be better to try and leave the police to deal with matters but ...

When Goodell came onboard as commissioner, I seem to recall that it was around the time that the Bengals had had 11 players arrested for various violations.

Even if you go down the route of saying the Bengals will suffer because their players get put in prison, it still doesn't give your league much appeal to sponsors, fans or TV if the image it's perceived for is crime.

People start to (incorrectly) extrapolate the NFL to be a league that is a quarter full of criminals. That may appeal to certain subsets of the population but for the average middle-class American family who probably make up the majority demographic of TV ratings, it's not good news.

Often those players would be back on the field with just a fine or a short prison sentence served during the offseason or even suspended. Having done their time they'd be back earning millions of dollars. Hard for the average American not to feel jealous about that and start criticising the league.

So, I'd say rightly, Goodell realised something needed to be done.

The problem is that the Ray Rice case brought a whole new dimension to matters because it's not just a legal problem. The Ray Rice case highlighted a whole undercurrent of society that wasn't being discussed and everybody preferred to ignore. That's where the problem lies with this, domestic violence is an emotive issue as much as a legal one.

by dryheat :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 12:02pm

The problem is that the prosecuting attorney can be incentivized to drop the case, whether by a payoff of the attorney, the payoff of a crucial witness, or simply because he/she doesn't think the case is winnable given that standard of proof, and therefore a bad investment of taxpayer dollars.

Just because someone isn't successfully prosecuted doesn't mean they aren't guilty as hell and deserving of punishment. (I'm speaking generally. I don't know the facts of the Elliott case specifically).

by sbond101 :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 1:51pm

It really is inspiring to see how much faith Americans have in their legal system.

In all seriousness though it's actually that huge grey area that is why I think the NFL is stupid to try to adjudicate criminal issues BEFORE a court rules on them. It's a lot easier to point to a court ruling or civil settlement as the standard of proof then to try to defend your BS investigation before a court. If they keep doing that, there going to keep getting sued by players and poisoning the bargaining environment for the next CBA. Why not simply say our policy is if player x is convicted he gets a season/6 games/whatever regardless of jail/whatever civil penalty and turn the media on the court. If American courts are as corrupt as people seem to think turning a spotlight on it is a public service, and it'll save the NFL from looking stupid so frequently. It's also what Paul Tagliabue did for years, during a period where legal issues could easily have permanently damaged the leagues image.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 08/12/2017 - 2:29pm

I'm not American but my external view is that it's not necessarily corruption but:

- cases can be won by the person who has the best lawyers (see OJ). I assume the best lawyers tend to work in private practice rather than for the county and therefore a rich football player has a good chance of getting off.

- prosecution will go with plea bargains to avoid a court case which might find someone who is genuinely innocent being jailed for six months rather than the threat of the prosecutors that they'll throw everything in the book at them.

- different states have different laws. That's noticeable with some drugs being legal in some states and outlawed in others. The Greg Hardy case for example had something notable about it meant because he'd committed his 'crime' in North Carolina there was a different way the trial could proceed that was to his benefit.

Most importantly in the case of domestic violence, the victim often covers for the perpetrator partly because he's usually the earner and if she testifies and the guy goes to jail that's the end of their NFL lifestyle. Note Ray Rice is now married to the woman he hit.

by RickD :: Mon, 08/14/2017 - 5:34pm

The history of Goodell's pursuit of increasing amounts of power is depressing. Before Goodell, the commissioner was not in the habit of punishing players who had not been found guilty by any court. Goodell decided that Plaxico Burress had committed a crime (when he shot himself) and did not want to wait for the legal system to play itself out before the NFL could punish him. So for the subsequent CBA Goodell made sure his powers were expanded to the point that he was no longer required to use the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard to impose punishment.

It wasn't obvious at the time, but in retrospect it seems inevitable: the consequence is that now Goodell appears to be comfortable with the fact that he's imposing very serious punishments on players that may be innocent of wrongdoing.

Goodell has thrown away literally thousands of years of evolution of legal reasoning in favor of the concept that he should be allowed to do whatever he wants to do.

The difference between Tagliabue and Goodell could not be more stark. Tags actually cared about players' rights, a fact that apparently does not sit well with the billionaire league owners.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 08/14/2017 - 10:30pm

There are very, very, few, employers or cartels in the country which use the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt when deciding to fire or discipline an employee for unacceptable behavior, so it's kind of strange to have that expectation for the NFL. A cartel of private employers cannot throw away thousands of years of judicial reasoning, for the simple reason that it isn't a judicial or even governmental entity.

There are a lot reasons to think poorly of Goodell's behavior (tops on my list is his disregard for adhering to written promises), but a lot of the criticism of the guy grows out of a fundamental misapprehension of what he is, which is a run of the mill p.r. flak, whose job it is to squeeze the last dime out of the players.

by sbond101 :: Tue, 08/15/2017 - 10:42am

The "it's just like other employers take" is pretty BS even though it's superficially true. Though its true that most contracts, CBA's, and employee codes of conduct use civil-court standards of evidence, it's also true that the vast majority of employers almost never exercise employer discipline/termination with cause provisions as written. In practice if an employer even suspects that an employee has done something to potentially damage the employers reputation they terminate "at will" and come to a negotiated severance settlement, because it's much cheaper (even if the severance settlement is 7 figures) than satisfying the requirements to investigate an incident and then fight a legal battle over the validity of that investigation/conclusion. Employers will use employer-discipline/termination clauses when the authorities have born the cost of the investigation on their behalf and come to a favorable conclusion (i.e. criminal convictions), or when there is iron-clad proof of the accusation.

There are a couple of issues which make the NFL really unusual; first and foremost it's a collectively bargained situation, which exempts the NFL from many standard provisions of employment law that protect employees, and in that CBA the commissioner is named as the arbiter of these kinds of disputes (the premise being that disputes are between the team (employer) and the player (employee). Second, every dispute has a dollar value large enough to justify expending a lot of resources to settle rather than just coming to a financial agreement. Third and most unusually, the player & team are often aligned, with the arbiter (commissioner) being the aggrieved party. The first two issues can generally rendered moot when the team is actually an aggrieved party (i.e. the financial settlement with AP after he won in court, the financial settlement with Ray Rice after he won in court, etc...); those cases look pretty typical; The NFL was forced to pay the player after levying illegal penalties on players to grandstand in the PR game. That process will never be fair to the player as long as the cost of losing a legal battle to the player continues to be much smaller than the perceived value of the commissioner winning the PR battle for the league. That sucks for the players, and is a lot different than the situation for 99.99% of Americans. The players need massive punitive damages against the league for unjustified suspensions if they want get to the situation most non-collectively bargained employees have. My guess is it's not a priority in collective bargaining, but it definitely damages the trust between the NFL and the PA. The NFL should really realize that damaging CBA negotiations is large enough threat to the league that there PR grandstanding is financially unjustified, but that's really just my opinion.

The process enters total crazy-land when leagues interests are separate from the teams interests (i.e. bounty-gate, deflate-gate, or anytime a team wants to stand behind a player) because of the strong incentives for teams not to sue the league for violations of their franchising agreement. I don't think any of us really know how those cases are litigated among the owners and where Goodell sits in that process, but however it's done, I think its clear that it's a totally screwed up process.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 08/15/2017 - 6:42pm

Well, I didn't say the NFL was just like other employers. I said very few employers employ the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt in a disciplinary process, so it is a little strange to expect it to be used by the NFL. I also said that the NFL's status as a fairly unique private cartel precludes it's ability to squander thousands of years of legal tradition.

When we speak of the NFL as a single entity, what we are really doing is referring to the preference of 24 or more owners, because that is the size of the majority needed to get anything done. Roger Goodell is little more than a monkee who has learned how to count to 24, and he likely makes no decision of import without being pretty sure that he has the support of at least 24 of his bosses, which made the most interesting thing about the deflation brouhaha was how it illuminated how widespread the animus was towards Robert Kraft.

They certainly aren't a omniscient bunch, but they have a fair number of owners who have had large financial success outside of the NFL, and it has been one of the most successful entertainment industry entities for the last 40-plus years, so I'm pretty reluctant to presume that I know how to run any aspect of their business better than they do.

by sbond101 :: Tue, 08/15/2017 - 6:45pm

That's fair (on both counts). I still think it's in their best strategic interests to do so, and I can't understand the value that the league thinks it gets out of it's current approach.

by Cro-Mags :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 3:22pm

The Friday Afternoon News Dump! Textbook NFL PR.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 3:32pm

and such a stupid thing too. leik nobody will know Elliott was suspended.

yes, there will eb less coverage and outrage tonight than if theuis happened on Tuesday but still whole Friday news dump thing is so stupid to me

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Fri, 08/11/2017 - 8:34pm

I'll start taking Goodell seriously when he disciplines Touchdown Tom for the goon squad paparazi shootout at his wedding.

The standard is the standard!