OXNARD, Calif. — Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will appeal a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy because of alleged domestic violence against a former girlfriend in July of 2016.
Elliott, who was not arrested nor charged in the case, continues to maintain his innocence.
The Columbus city prosecutor said he didn’t believe that he could make a case because of conflicting and inconsistent information.
Elliott will try to discredit Tiffany Thompson in the appeal process by highlighting, her threats to “ruin his career,” including one that was racially based, according to sources.
The NFL announced Elliott’s suspension Friday, saying it has photo and digital evidence supporting a finding “that (Elliott) engaged in physical violence against Ms. Thompson on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016.”
Elliott’s appeal game plan includes highlighting Thompson’s already chronicled text messages encouraging a friend to lie to police about an alleged domestic assault on July 22, misleading testimony to NFL lead investigator Lisa Friel, and repeated threats to ruin his career after breaking off the relationship.
Elliott has not talked to the media since the start of training camp, and was escorted from the locker room following Saturday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams.
But he made his feelings known on Twitter on Friday, saying he was “both surprised and disappointed by the NFL’s decision” and “I strongly disagree with the league’s findings.”
His representatives also blasted the NFL in a statement Friday for their “factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions” and promised “a slew of additional credible and controverting evidence will come to light” during the appeal.
It’s unclear what role Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will play in the appeal. But a source says Jones is “angry” about the suspension after being adamant that, after reviewing all of the league’s evidence, no assault occurred and Elliott would not be disciplined.
Jones also has uncharacteristically not spoken with the media since the suspension.
Elliott’s absence will leave a massive hole in the Cowboys’ offense. He led the league in rushing a season ago as a rookie and is a home-run threat whenever the ball is in his hands.
“For us it’s very shocking,” running back Darren McFadden said. “We didn’t know what was going on exactly. To hear six games, it was definitely a surprise to us. We didn’t expect anything to happen. But they made a decision. For us as a team, we are going to rally around him and keep going forward.”
And while the Cowboys were hopeful that Elliott would not miss any games, fueled by Jones’ blatant confidence, the team did prepare for the possibility, per head coach Jason Garrett.
“We suspected that something like this might happen,” Garrett said. “We prepared our team accordingly by building it the right way and we’re going to focus on what we control with our football team. As players and coaches, we’re going to coach as well as we can and we’re going to play as well as we can with the players we have available to us.
“We talked to our team about the situation and the importance of focusing on what we can control,” Garrett continued. “We can’t control what the NFL does. It’s not my place to comment on whether I think it’s justified.”
Tight end Witten and the rest of the team are confident in the depth behind Elliott. McFadden and Alfred Morris have been 1,000-yard rushers in the league, and Rod Smith has impressed early on in training camp.
“We’ll get through this because that’s what we’re all about,” Witten said. “You look last year when we had adversity in different ways with injuries and different things that come up, I think our team has grown closer to each other and I suspect that we’ll do the same thing moving forward. That’s my job, that’s coach Garrett’s job as leaders on this team and guys will step up.
“At the running back position, that’s a position that we feel like we have a lot of depth there, guys who played at a high level for quite a few years in this league. Opportunity for them to hold it down until Zeke gets back. Our team will do that.”
Garrett has not determined if Elliott will play in the preseason. He played in only one preseason game last year and Garrett said that will likely be the case again if he plays at all.
Meanwhile, the suspension gives the Cowboys 13 player suspensions since 2014 for a total of 108 games. There have been a total of 16 suspensions involving those 13 players. Defensive end Randy Gregory has received two suspensions for a total of 30 games, and linebacker Rolando McClain three for a total of 30.
Witten also measured his words when talking about the domestic violence investigation into Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and his subsequent six-game suspension.
This is a matter that hits close to home for Witten, who grew up with an abusive father.
“I’m not privy to all the information that’s gone on over the last year,” Witten said. “I’d say this: there’s no place for a man to put his hand on a woman. Most of you know that that’s a situation that’s affected my family as a younger kid, so I put a lot of work and attention and have a platform to step out and speak on stopping domestic violence.
“Having said that, Zeke continues to work through it. He’s talked about it. How many games and all that stuff? That’s not what you really deal with. He’s a teammate and we just need to work through it with him and have this opportunity to grow from it. I think that’s what his purpose is right now.”
Witten has discussed the situation with Elliott and is hopeful that he grows from it.
“Certainly, these situations are never easy,” Witten said. “But Zeke’s been a teammate of mine for the last year and I’ve enjoyed having that relationship with him. Not only as a tremendous football player, but the opportunity to be able to have a relationship with him and mentor him. … I’m certain that he’ll work through it and be better and grow from it.
“Quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable even having the conversation right now, but you go through it, and (you’re) in a position to be a leader, and you continue to show the way and allow guys to grow, and I know that’s been a tough year on him. I think that his mindset has been such what he’s said, what he’s already released, I think that that’s a pretty good perspective on what he’s trying to do moving forward.”