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Spagnola: Since The Show Must Go On, There Is No Time For A Pity-Party
OXNARD, Calif. – As we were walking through the Residence Inn parking lot here at training camp, Cowboys player development consultant Calvin Hill was walking toward us.
He was wearing appropriately for the day a dry-fit T-shirt, blue with white capital letters on the front. One head coach Jason Garrett issue with a signature message to the team and the organization:
Garrett’s ability to maintain focus over the next month, heck two-and-a-half months, with his players will be stretched to the limits.
Let me say this, and as you can imagine, nobody out here at the River Ridge Sports Complex on Friday was happy. Not the owner, not the COO, not the head coach. Most likely, not the players. Faces were long, frozen in fury.
For the NFL found it necessary to suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott six games for violation of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, all related to a five-day period in July 2016 around his 21st birthday when he was accused of physical abuse by his female acquaintance, Tiffany Thompson, according to the NFL release of the letter to Elliott, along with his behavior at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dallas on March 11 of this year.
The four-person advisory board, along with Commissioner Goodell, as he is referred to in the six-page letter, did not then suspend Elliott the mandatory six games for domestic abuse, but simply for violating the all-encompassing Personal Conduct Policy. That does not have to be a mandatory six-game suspension, but the hard-charging NFL against domestic abuse laid down the hammer.
So before we try to pass judgment on this classic case of he-said, she-said, which the prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, did not believe they had enough evidence to convict Elliott in a court of law, and no one in Dallas saw fit to accuse Elliott of domestic abuse for tugging an acquaintance’s cleavage-revealing top down – or at least trying to – at the St. Paddy’s Day celebration caught on social media video, let’s remember a couple of things.
This isn’t over. Elliott has the right to appeal, as stated in the letter, within three days, and by the CBA bylaws, the appeal needs to be heard by the NFL within 10 days. Now, you might remember this from previous appeals, i.e. Tom Brady and Greg Hardy. These appeals are heard by either Roger Goodell, who handed out the punishment in the first place, or Harold Henderson, formally the NFL’s chairman of the Labor Relations committee.
Uh, seriously. Like the NFLPA agreed to this in the CBA.
Sure would seem the NFLPA would file an appeal on Elliott’s behalf.
Then, if Zeke, the NFLPA and the Cowboys can’t get no satisfaction, maybe then it’s on to the court system. After all, the first six games are at stake. That’s 37.5 percent of the season. To put that 38 percent in perspective, that would be like missing 62 games in an MLB season and 31 games in the NBA or NHL. That’s pretty darn punitive, with far less time to make up ground with only 10 games remaining in the NFL.
Furthermore, there is a lot of money at stake here for Elliott. Like just more than $93,000 a game, coming to $559,000. And the Cowboys have the ability to garnish $1.4 million of his signing bonus, along with the suspension wiping out the guarantees on his base salaries for these next three seasons.
Just remember in a case like this, it’s not over until it’s over, and believe me, it sure doesn’t seem like it’s over, at least not from reading the letter to him, the transcript of the conference call with at least one member of that four-person advisory board, and the terse one-sentence release from the NFLPA.
All that, though, is for the Cowboys management, the NFLPA and Zeke’s legal representatives to haggle with. But for Jason Garrett, his coaching staff, his players, they ain’t canceling the season. And the Cowboys sure as hell aren’t forfeiting the season. There still are 16 games to be played.
So first order of business for Garrett is to somehow dissipate the pall that was hanging over this place on Friday. Look, I know all about next man up. That is fine and good. And while the Cowboys have a stable of running backs, including 1,000-yard rushers Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, none in the stable, including Rod Smith and Ronnie Hillman, is Zeke. Period.
Talk all you want about yards, but Zeke’s biggest contribution his rookie season was 15 rushing touchdowns. Fifteen! That’s almost one a game on average. Take away six touchdowns and what happens? Lots of slack there
See, next-man-up pertains to having to already replace Demontre’ Moore for two games and David Irving for four games. Rotation guys.
But this is Zeke, now. He is the current Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith, and we saw what happened when Emmitt sat out those first two games in a contract dispute with owner Jerry Jones to start the 1993 season. Began the season 0-2.
Now, some of the problem back then was a drop in talent. The Cowboys didn’t have a veteran back like McFadden or Morris to replace Emmitt. It was rookie Derrick Lassic. Still, a better part of the problem was the Cowboys feeling sorry for themselves that they didn’t have the NFL’s defending rushing champ available. Didn’t have the eventual NFL Player of the Year AND Super Bowl MVP on the team. That’s huge.
If indeed the Cowboys lose Zeke six games, that, too, is huge. But it’s not the devastation some are predicting. Just makes it a little harder. Just probably puts a little more responsibility on Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and that offensive line once those questions up there are settled. They have to be the best versions of themselves.
The defense has to keep getting off the field as it did last year. Has to come close to its top-five ranking in scoring defense. Maybe top 10, but they certainly can’t regress to their 32nd ranking in total yards of 2013.
And to that, my guess is Garrett will begin preaching focus. Focus on Saturday’s preseason game. Focus on each and every down, starting at 6 p.m. (PDT) Saturday in the L.A. Coliseum against the Los Angeles Rams. Focus on the upcoming practices on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
You get the idea.
There won’t be anyone in the NFL feeling sorry for the Cowboys. Not one bit. My guess is those owners who were behind the scenes encouraging the commissioner to punish Elliott will be celebrating the decision over the first seven weeks of the season. I mean, heck yeah, you think the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals, Rams, Packers and Niners aren’t celebrating today that they don’t have to face Zeke? They sure as heck are.
Only that sixth-week bye doesn’t give a darn. Zeke still will get paid for that week.
Now, the Cowboys can be mad. Go right ahead. They might have a 24-hour pity party. I can understand that, too. After all, that’s your teammate, or as guys will say, our brother.
But just like baseball, there is no crying in football, right Tom Hanks? Don’t be surprised if these guys develop one of those us-against-the-world mentalities. Let management do what they do in the interim. Let the legal folks do what they do to try to at least shorten the excessive sentence.
The players, do what you do. Play. And do not saddle up with all the Debbie-downers that will come crawling out of the creeks offering sympathy. No, not at all.
What they must do, beyond a shadow of a doubt is …