Through all the cage-rattling and legal maneuvering, the NFL and the Cowboys quietly share (some) common ground on Ezekiel Elliott.
Both knew the reigning rushing champion needed a wakeup call.
The hope, internally, in Dallas was that everything Elliott had gone through over this calendar year would, finally, shake him up and scare him straight. And it wasn’t just the domestic violence investigation, but the reaction to pulling up a woman’s shirt at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, and, at least, being there for a bar fight at an Uptown watering hole that’s known to be frequented by Cowboys.
The overriding point was that when you’re a prominent Cowboy in Dallas in general, and the heir to the Tony Dorsett/Emmitt Smith throne in particular, you don’t get to play by the same rules as everyone else. You can’t go out and expect to blend in, and you can’t slip up and expect to get a pass.
That’s what I take away from the grainy video that showed up on the @inbeastitrust Twitter account late Sunday: Zeke still doesn’t get it.
Ezekiel Elliott has decided to accept his suspension from Cowboys effective immediately after this interception pic.twitter.com/fCYOk6XoBD
— Mr. Beastly (@inbeastitrust) September 18, 2017
Is it the end of the world that he’s loafing on a Dak Prescott interception? No. It wouldn’t have changed much for the Cowboys in a 42-17 loss to Denver, and Elliott can easily prevent it from being a season-defining moment.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it did happen, and that Elliott is—and should be—held to a high standard, no matter the score or circumstance, as one of the most important players on the Cowboys’ roster. That’s life as a star player on what Bill Parcells used to call the NFL’s “main stage.” Coach Jason Garrett said as much on Monday, noting that Elliott is competitive and could have been frustrated by his tough day against the Broncos but acknowledging that “that’s not the way we play,” and that the Cowboys would address it with him.
When Elliott was an All-American at Ohio State he developed a reputation as a campus celebrity who liked to bask in the spotlight. He relished being the most famous guy in the room, which is understandable for a 20-year-old. And eventually, word of how Elliott and Joey Bosa were running the town after winning the 2015 national title got to NFL scouts.
A few months later, Bosa incurred a one-game suspension and moved out of the apartment he shared with Elliott, knowing what was on the line for him. Elliott, meanwhile, continued to dominate on the field, then went fourth overall in the draft, and led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, which gave him little reason to change.
That is to say he kept living the life. He showed up to training camp last year at 231 pounds, well above his ideal playing weight of 225. His late-night exploits popped up on social media. In the spring, once again, he had to work his way back into playing shape. None of this stuff ever got in the way of his being a great football player.
But the Cowboys’ brass has been in place for long enough, and the league has enough to dealings with players, to know that eventually it would catch up with Elliott.
Eventually, some guy with a lot less to lose than he has would take a swing at him in a bar. Eventually, the fluctuation in weight would be a problem. Eventually, he wouldn’t be in his early 20s anymore.
Elliott has gone through a domestic violence investigation lasting more than a year. He’s been embroiled in a prolonged court case over the six-game suspension the league handed down. For most athletes, that would be cause for some self-reflection and a lot more caution in behavior.
Instead, we’ve gotten an Elliott who continues to play by his own rules. His loafing on Sunday is just another example of that.
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