Ezekiel Elliott's Las Vegas incident 'likely' to be reviewed by NFL commissioner

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

The NFL is likely to review an incident involving Ezekiel Elliott and a concert security guard in Las Vegas to determine if the Dallas Cowboys running back violated the terms of previous suspension guidelines set forth by commissioner Roger Goodell, two league sources have told Yahoo Sports.

Elliott was briefly handcuffed at a Las Vegas concert earlier this month after bumping a security guard. Video of the incident made its way to TMZ. The Cowboys running back ultimately wasn’t arrested or charged. Sources close to Elliott and the Cowboys have told Yahoo Sports they don’t believe the language of Elliott’s previous suspension determination supports discipline in light of the video footage.

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters last week that, “I don’t see that having any consequences for us.”

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is facing scrutiny over an incident at a music festival in Las Vegas earlier this month. (AP)
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is facing scrutiny over an incident at a music festival in Las Vegas earlier this month. (AP)

Despite that stance, a source in the NFL’s executive branch told Yahoo Sports the Las Vegas incident is “clearly” subject to review by Goodell under the league’s personal conduct policy, particularly in light of Elliott’s previous six-game suspension for alleged acts of physical abuse against an ex-girlfriend. That previous case continues to be a source of resentment at the highest levels of the Cowboys franchise, largely due to the league’s sole interviewer of Elliott’s accuser having recommended no discipline after finding inconsistencies and credibility issues with the alleged victim’s statements.

Elliott ultimately lost his arbitration fight and a legal battle that ensued over the league’s handling of the case – leaving him subject to a higher level of examination when incidents like the one in Las Vegas occur. That has led to significant irritation inside the Cowboys and with sources close to Elliott, who feel he was unfairly suspended initially and now faces a continual microscope fueled by a previously flawed investigation.

This latest incident could end up being a shining example of why the Cowboys and those close to Elliott remain concerned, because previous documentation tied to the running back’s last suspension could provide traction for additional discipline.

The chief issues this time around:

  • When Elliott’s suspension appeals had run their course, a vaguely worded determination was relayed to the running back and his representatives that he could be subject to further discipline for additional contact with authorities. However, it was not spelled out what the threshold would ultimately be to trigger another personal conduct violation. Essentially, it would be up to Goodell to determine if Elliott had triggered a violation – and that determination would be made on an incident-by-incident basis rather than hardened guidelines.

  • Also, in what might be the most tangibly spelled-out response from the NFL, a source in the league’s executive branch said Elliott was put “on notice” about his personal conduct thresholds in his initial suspension letter on Aug. 11, 2017. The source said a video incident of Elliott pulling down the shirt of a woman and exposing her breast during a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas was construed as a personal conduct violation despite the incident producing no arrest or even a complaint from the woman involved.

The source said a passage in that 2017 letter conveyed to Elliott how a video similar to the recent incident in Las Vegas could become material evidence for another personal conduct violation. Most especially when a player is already under heightened scrutiny due to past behavior.

The passage of that letter that could again apply to the Las Vegas incident, according to the league source:

The League also learned through public sources that on March 11, 2017, while watching a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dallas, Texas from the balcony of a local restaurant, you pulled down the shirt of a young woman, exposing and touching her breast. This incident was captured on video and posted on social media. Again, no arrest was made nor was a complaint filed by the young woman. Each of these incidents involved allegations of conduct that is expressly prohibited by the League’s Personal Conduct Policy, including ‘[a]ctual or threatened physical violence against another person.’ Even when a player is not charged with a crime, ‘he may still be found to have violated the policy if credible evidence establishes that he engaged in conduct prohibited by this Personal Conduct Policy.’ As the Policy states, “[i]t is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promoted the values of the NFL, and is lawful.

In light of that passage, the question for Goodell will likely be whether there was “actual or threatened physical violence against another person” in the Las Vegas video. In the footage, Elliott appears to stand in the path of a female companion a handful of times. Later, he stands chest to chest with a security guard and asks him, “You got something to say?” then appears to bump the guard with his right shoulder as the guard steps back and falls into a pedestrian barrier.

Such an incident is where the ambiguity of physical contact thresholds for Elliott become paramount. Asked if the passage in the previous letter provides grounds to suspend Elliott for the Las Vegas incident, the source said the determination would fall into the hands of Goodell, including whether the Las Vegas video rises to the level of a personal conduct violation and also what penalties would be appropriate if it does.

The source declined to give a timeline on any outcomes for Elliott, beyond saying the league would “likely” review the incident prior to training camp.

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