The Dallas Cowboys have filed in court a declaration of support of the NFL Players Association's emergency motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, fighting the six-game suspension levied by the league against running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys general counsel Jason Cohen observed the three-day appeal hearing Elliott took part in this week in New York.
He wrote that Elliott's six-game suspension would "cause the Cowboys irreparable harm." He said Elliott plays a "critical role on our team -- both as a leader and a player," and every practice and game that Elliott misses "will hurt our team's chances of having a successful season and making it to the 2017-2018 NFL playoffs and hopefully the Super Bowl."
The NFLPA filed a request for a temporary restraining order in the Eastern District of Texas, calling for the courts to block any suspension upheld by NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson, according to a court filing obtained by ESPN on Friday.
The filing accused the league's appeals process of being "fundamentally unfair," citing new facts revealed during this week's hearing that wrapped up Thursday.
If Henderson rules that Elliott should remain suspended for any stretch of games, the court can then decide to stay the suspension while it reviews the matter, and Elliott could potentially be allowed to play while the case works its way through the courts.
In the filing, the NFLPA alleges "there was a League-orchestrated conspiracy by senior NFL executives ... to hide critical information -- which would completely exonerate Elliott" in his domestic violence case.
"During the course of the past 13 months and culminating in the last three days of the appeal process, we have witnessed some of the most egregious violations of legal due process in connection with the NFL's investigation of Mr. Elliott," read a statement from Elliott's attorneys Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum. "Not only did the underlying facts not support the false allegations made against Mr. Elliott, but the process in which they were gathered and adjudicated were fundamentally unfair. Mr. Elliott looks forward to being completely vindicated and will continue to explore all other legal options to redress the reputational and monetary harm that he has suffered."
According to the filing, Kia Wright Roberts, the NFL's director of investigations, testified Tuesday that she was the only NFL employee who interviewed the running back's accuser, Tiffany Thompson, during the investigation and that she would not have recommended discipline for Elliott based on what she found. In her testimony, Roberts said that another NFL security representative was with her during an interview with Thompson.
The filing also said that Roberts told Lisa Friel, who investigates domestic violence cases for the NFL, of her views but was never allowed to convey them to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or the "independent advisors."
The NFLPA says Roberts concluded after reviewing all evidence that Thompson "was not credible in her allegations of abuse," according to the filing.
"The withholding of this critical information from the disciplinary process was a momentous denial of the fundamental fairness required in every arbitration and, of course, does not satisfy federal labor law's minimal due process requirements," the union wrote.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Friday morning that it's "unequivocally, absolutely false" that Goodell was not aware of Roberts' findings in the investigation before he imposed discipline.
"The idea that this was a conspiracy is false," Lockhart said. "The credibility issues were addressed at length in the investigative report. Kia Roberts' points were made very clearly. The 160-page report included a fulsome description of the credibility problems of both Tiffany Thompson and Ezekiel Elliott."
Lockhart said the court will have to decide whether the league adhered to the CBA in its investigation, and the league obviously believes it did.
During NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler's questioning of Friel, he asked her if she knew if anyone involved in the investigation "said we should not pursue discipline in this matter because the evidence is so inconsistent and there's so many credibility issues."
Friel answered: "I don't know if I can answer that." She added that one side conducts the investigation and the other side -- Goodell -- decides discipline. She did say that Roberts expressed concerns about the credibility of Elliott's accuser.
Until a decision is made by Henderson, Elliott remains eligible to play in the Sept. 10 season opener against the New York Giants. Elliott was back with his teammates at The Star on Saturday as Dallas begins its preparations for the opener. He was in New York this week tending to the appeal hearing.
If he upholds the suspension, then Elliott could still be eligible if an emergency motion is granted.
The NFLPA paperwork contained a pro forma document in such filings: a draft copy of a temporary restraining order -- in Elliott's favor -- to be signed by the judge overseeing the case. ESPN briefly reported incorrectly that an injunction had been granted.
Taking a legal stance against the NFL is not new for owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
In 1995, Jones filed a $750 million lawsuit against the NFL after the league brought a $300 million suit against Jones for signing marketing agreements with Pepsi and Nike for Texas Stadium outside of NFL Properties.
The sides eventually settled their differences without going through with the suits.