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Bernstein: Ezekiel Elliott Vs. NFL Could Get More Complicated

By Dan Bernstein-- senior columnist

(CBS) Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott's case regards alleged domestic violence, not deflating footballs beyond an acceptable standard in order to gain a competitive edge. It's critical to make that distinction and be aware of it if we're going to compare and contrast his arguments against the NFL with those of Tom Brady. Elliott's case is much more serious.

But we're beginning to hear those close to the ongoing appeals process bringing up the looming possibility of a jump back into the court system if arbitrator Harold Henderson doesn't rule in favor of overturning or reducing significantly Elliott's six-game suspension. Speculation began with the announcement that the NFL Players Association had hired attorney Jeffrey Kessler, a longtime league nemesis who once argued on behalf of Brady.

Pro Football Weekly executive editor and Westwood One reporter Hub Arkush joined the Bernstein and Goff show on 670 The Score on Tuesday and explained the current dynamics taking place.

"I can tell you from talking to people along the league side of things that the best hope Elliott has is it getting reduced to five or four, and that's highly unlikely," he said.

"We're misreading the retention of Jeffrey Kessler," Arkush continued. "I don't think it has a lot to do with the appeal so much as their plans to go to court and try to stop it, and that's probably going to work about as well as it did for Tom Brady: It's not going to work, and it's because the players agreed to this."

Any legal contention by Elliott beyond the collectively bargained appeal process would have to focus on what could be perceived as unfair procedure dictated by league officials or the arbitrator, according to multiple reports, considering the wide authority granted to commissioner Roger Goodell. The appeal won't be heard by Goodell himself, but Henderson was seemingly tapped to act as a representative surrogate. If Elliott can't convince him that the league overstepped its bounds with its initial decision, his next step could be to seek a temporary restraining order that could keep him on the field. But the grounds on which that could be accomplished are questionable, when we account for what has already been accepted by players.

"The league is digging in on this one," Arkush said. "And they are very upset about one element of it — (NFLPA head) DeMaurice Smith is out trying to sell this idea that the players never agreed to this player punishment. The players absolutely agreed to six-game suspensions for domestic violence, and the league's position is that they've got more evidence against Elliott than they had against Ray Rice."

If that's true, it would have to be total volume of evidence rather than the single shocking incident so notably seen on video. It's possible that NFL investigators have accrued more photos and testimony from multiple alleged incidents, but they would appear to lack the kind of slam-dunk confirmation that would keep Elliott's side from pushing back with such intensity. If it existed, we would have known about it by now, despite anything the league wants out there about the strength of their position. Still, the message seems to be that this is going to take some time and could involve more twists and turns before a resolution.

"There's a lot of smoke here, but I wouldn't bet on seeing a fire," Arkush concluded. "I think maybe an effort to let it go away while reducing it to five games, but that's probably the best hope that Elliott has."

The next step, then, would be once again involving the federal court system in a player-versus-league dispute, the kind of grim and tedious story that football fans now know all too well.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score's "Bernstein and Goff Show" in afternoon drive. You can follow him on Twitter  @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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