DALLAS – The NFL suspended star Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games Friday, concluding after a yearlong investigation that the league's leading rusher injured his former girlfriend in three separate incidents last summer.
According to the letter Elliott received informing him of the suspension, the NFL believed he used “physical force” three times in a span of five days in a Columbus, Ohio, apartment last July resulting in injuries to Tiffany Thompson's face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, hips and knees. She was his girlfriend at the time.
Prosecutors in Columbus decided nearly a year ago not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State. In announcing the suspension under the NFL's personal conduct policy, the league said its investigation was based on photographs, text messages and other electronic evidence. Commissioner Roger Goodell made his decision based on the findings and in consultation with four advisers, including Hall of Fame player Ken Houston.
Elliott's ban means the Cowboys will have four players suspended when last year's NFC East champions start the season in a month – with the possibility of losing two more.
Elliot, 22, has three days to appeal the ruling, which his legal team said he would do while blasting the decision.
“The NFL's findings are replete with factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions and it 'cherry picks' so-called evidence to support its conclusion while ignoring other critical evidence,” attorneys Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum said in a joint statement. “During the upcoming weeks and through the appeal, a slew of additional credible and controverting evidence will come to light.”
If Goodell's ruling stands, Elliott will go on the suspended list the first week of the regular season and be eligible to return to the active roster Oct. 23. His first possible game would be Week 8 at Washington.
The ruling requires Elliott to get an evaluation to determine whether he needs counseling or treatment, and to show proof that he is following up on any recommendations. NFL special counsel for conduct Todd Jones wrote in the letter to Elliott that advisers “were of the view that there is substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that (Elliott) engaged in physical violence against Ms. Thompson on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016.”
Last September, the office of Columbus City Attorney Richard Pfeiffer cited conflicting and inconsistent information in the evidence in deciding against criminal charges. Pfeiffer's office declined to comment Friday.
Peter Harvey, one of the advisers to Goodell, said the NFL had access to forensic electronic evidence that prosecutors didn't have. Harvey said an example was proof that photographs were taken by Thompson the same day she alleged that she was injured by Elliott.
“It is also important to note that, while there may be conflicting testimonial evidence regarding the nature and substance of conversations, there is no dispute that you and Ms. Thompson were together in the same location on the dates identified, and no evidence to suggest that anyone else could have caused these injuries,” the letter said.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had maintained he hadn't seen anything to indicate Elliott was guilty of domestic violence and he didn't think his star back would be suspended.
Elliott has had a string of off-field issues in the year since the Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft.
He was seen in a legal marijuana shop during the preseason in Seattle last year and was also involved in a bar fight in Dallas a week before training camp this year.
The NFL's letter to Elliott cited the Ohio case as well as an incident this spring when Elliott was caught on video pulling down a woman's shirt while watching a St. Patrick's Day parade in Dallas.
An All-Pro as a rookie, Elliott finished with 1,631 yards rushing in helping the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC at 13-3 before a divisional playoff loss to Green Bay. He set rookie franchise records for yards, rushing touchdowns (15) and total touchdowns (16).
Three Dallas defensive ends will start the seasons with suspensions. Randy Gregory will miss at least the entire regular season for multiple violations of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. David Irving is out four games (performance-enhancing drugs) and Damontre Moore will sit two games (substance abuse).