By granting an injunction Friday, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant blocked the NFL's six-game suspension of Ezekiel Elliott. The running back will be able to play beyond Week 1 and probably for most, if not all, of the season.
Elliott might eventually serve the suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy for allegedly inflicting personal harm on former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson in July 2016 while in Columbus, Ohio. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was able to play in 2015 while going through court proceedings to roll back his four-game suspension in relation to Deflategate. He ended missing the first four games in 2016 when the suspension was upheld.
But in the here-and-now world that is the NFL, the Cowboys' chances of contending in 2017 improved dramatically.
They were facing the real possibility of not having Elliott for 37.5 percent of the season.
In 2016, the Cowboys overcame the loss of quarterback Tony Romo for what turned out to be all but one drive in the regular season because of a compression fracture in his back and finished 13-3. They did it thanks to then-rookie Dak Prescott's strong play, but also because of Elliott.
It wasn't just Elliott's NFL-best 1,631 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. He became the heartbeat of the offense the same way DeMarco Murray did in 2014, when the Cowboys finished 12-4 and Murray led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards.
With Elliott, the Cowboys can follow the same formula that worked so well in 2014 and 2016.
With Elliott, the Cowboys are the leading contenders in the NFC East.
McFadden finished fourth in the NFL in rushing for the Cowboys in 2015. Morris has three 1,000-yard seasons and two Pro Bowl appearances. Smith had a strong training camp and preseason.
While confident they could have run the ball effectively enough in his absence, Elliott brings a different gear to the Cowboys' running game. He had seven 100-yard games, four more with better than 90 yards and another three with at least 80 yards last season. He had 48 carries for at least 10 yards in 15 regular-season games. He had 14 carries of 20 yards or more in those 15 games.
Elliott helps the defense, which was a big reason the Cowboys selected him with the fourth overall pick in 2016. The better the Cowboys run the ball, the more they control the clock. The more they control the tempo of the game, the less the defense plays. The less the defense plays, the less it will be exposed.
It has to be acknowledged that Mazzant's ruling made no judgment on whether Elliott committed domestic violence or not. Mazzant's ruling is about the fundamental fairness of the appeals process set forth by the league.
The Cowboys will benefit from that ruling this season, but they might indeed be without their running back in the future.
The future can wait. The Cowboys care only about the present.