FRISCO, Texas — Ezekiel Elliott’s decision to forego any further appeals and serve the six-game suspension provides the Dallas Cowboys some closure, but little else.
Instead of hoping against hope that he could win his Dec. 1 hearing for a preliminary injunction and see him return before they play Dec. 10 against the New York Giants, the Cowboys know the next time they will see him at The Star will be Dec. 18 and the next time he can be on the field will be Dec. 24.
With how this has played out at the end, there has to be some wondering inside the Cowboys’ organization if Elliott should have just taken the suspension at the start of the season. However, Elliott was doing his best to keep from being labeled an abuser. At the end, the debate was not about whether Elliott struck a former girlfriend on multiple occasions. It was about Roger Goodell’s power as commissioner to impose discipline.
Legally, Elliott was never charged by the Columbus, Ohio, authorities, but the NFL put the label on him through its personal conduct policy with a 13-month investigation in which their lead investigator did not believe Elliott should be disciplined.
Since the NFL announced the suspension on Aug. 11, the Cowboys have known that at some point — either at the start of the season, middle of the season, end of the season or even next season — their lead running back would miss time.
Their first attempt to show that life without Elliott would work, failed — a 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week. Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden combined to run for 65 yards on 15 carries, or roughly what Elliott picked up in a quarter and a half of action, on average, in his past four games.
The Cowboys actually missed All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith and All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee more against Atlanta than they did their All-Pro running back.
While “next man up,” is a terrific philosophy, it is up to the Cowboys coaches to do more than just run the same stuff without Elliott and Tyron Smith on offense. Expecting Morris, Rod Smith and McFadden to be able to do what Elliott did, does not make sense. Expecting Chaz Green and Byron Bell to block like Tyron Smith, does not make sense.
Jason Garrett often tells his players to control what they can control. He repeated that message to Elliott throughout the running back’s legal odyssey. It’s up to the coaches to control what they can control, and that is putting together a plan that better fits the strengths of Morris, Rod Smith and McFadden and not so much what Elliott did best.
The Cowboys now know they will not have Elliott until the day before Christmas.
To make sure the final two games of the season matter, the coaches have to find a way to better adjust to life without Elliott.
The goal is to be at 7-7 or 8-6 by the time Elliott returns. That should keep the Cowboys in the wild-card chase.
And then the hope would be a rested, fresh and likely motivated Elliott can carry them in the final two games.