It has been 18 days since the NFL notified Elliott he would be suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct policy for an alleged domestic violence incident in Columbus, Ohio, in July 2016.
In a letter sent to Elliott, Todd Jones, the league’s special counsel for conduct, said four advisers who reviewed information collected in an investigation lasting more than a year "were of the view that there is substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that [Elliott] engaged in physical violence” against Tiffany Thompson on multiple occasions.
Elliott’s only public acknowledgment of the suspension has come via social media; he said he was “surprised and disappointed by the NFL’s decision, and I strongly disagree with the League’s findings.” He also added, “I admit that I am far from perfect, but I plan to continue to work very hard, on and off the field, to mature and earn the great opportunity that I have been given.”
Elliott has not spoken to the media since the Cowboys’ June minicamp.
Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appointed Harold Henderson to be the arbitrator of the appeal hearing. Henderson was a member of the NFL’s executive management council for years, serving with Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
Jones said after the Cowboys’ preseason game against the Oakland Raiders that Henderson “is a really great friend of mine. He was at my [Hall of Fame] party, and so you weren’t at that party unless you were a good friend, I promise you that.”
According to sources who have been through the appeal process, Henderson will serve as a judge of sorts and hear arguments from both sides. The NFL will have its counsel on hand. Elliott will have his counsel; the NFL Players Association will have attorneys on hand. The Cowboys will also have counsel in the room.
The length of the hearing varies, but in all likelihood no new information will be provided. Last week, Henderson denied the NFLPA’s request to make Thompson available and also denied the union's request to see the notes of the investigators and the Columbus city attorney’s office, according to a source.
Kia Roberts, the NFL’s director of investigations, and Lisa Friel, the senior vice president/special counsel for investigations, will be part of the hearing.
Elliott flew to New York on Sunday to prepare for the hearing, missing the Cowboys’ practice Monday and Tuesday. He will not play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Houston Texans, which has been relocated to AT&T Stadium in Arlington because of Hurricane Harvey.
Elliott’s side will use as evidence text messages and witness testimony that Thompson threatened to ruin his career. However, the league has acknowledged she attempted to have a friend lie about the circumstances surrounding an incident on July 21, 2016.
The league’s 160-page report contained those threats and text messages but did not sway the four advisers to Goodell: former New Jersey attorney general Peter Harvey, chief executive officer of The Women of Color Network Tonya Lovelace, former United States attorney and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission Mary Jo White and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ken Houston.
Henderson served as the arbitrator of the hearing for former Cowboys player Greg Hardy in 2015. Goodell suspended Hardy 10 games for what were deemed to be multiple violations of the conduct policy after an incident with a former girlfriend in the spring of 2014.
Henderson reduced the suspension to four games.
“I find that the conduct of Hardy clearly violated the letter and spirit of any version of the [personal conduct policy] since its inception, and of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws long before then,” Henderson said then in a written statement. “The egregious conduct exhibited here is indefensible in the NFL. However, ten games is simply too much, in my view, of an increase over prior cases without notice such as was done last year, when the 'baseline' for discipline in domestic violence or sexual assault cases was announced as a six-game suspension.”
There is no time frame for Henderson to make a decision. According to the collective bargaining agreement, the decision must be made “as soon as practicable following the conclusion of the hearing.” Final briefs must be submitted to Henderson by Friday, creating a potential conundrum for the Cowboys, who have to cut their roster to 53 players by Saturday.
Without a decision on Elliott’s status, he would remain on the active roster. The Cowboys might have to cut a player they would not want to lose to keep Elliott on the active roster until Henderson makes a decision.
If the suspension is upheld, Elliott would revert to the reserve/suspended list.
Theoretically, Elliott -- or the Cowboys -- could fight the decision in court if the suspension is affirmed, which could make him eligible to play until the case is heard.
So the appeal hearing might not be Elliott’s last chance to get the suspension reduced.