Domestic violence accusations, court dates, appeals and more appeals. This can only mean one thing: the start of another NFL season.
In recent years, it seems as if the league cannot get going without being involved in a mega-controversy with one of its star players. Three years ago, it was Ray Rice, who learned about the power of video and that not everybody gets second chances. It really depends on how good you still are. The last two years, it was Tom Brady and Deflategate at the forefront of the news in a saga that lasted longer than Gone With the Wind.
Now Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is playing the role of villainous thug, after being accused but never charged with domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson in Columbus, Ohio, and Aventura, Fla. Thompson made her case by releasing gruesome photos. The NFL, led by righteous do-gooder Roger Goodell, decided Elliott should be suspended for six games.
We found out Friday evening that this game is probably still only in the first quarter after attorneys from the NFL players union successfully completed a delay-of-suspension strategy that could keep Elliott on the field for the entire season. Federal judge Amos Mazzant granted a request from the NFLPA for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that prevented the NFL from enforcing its suspension of the Cowboys’ star running back.
How ironic that a man accused of domestic violence is being saved by something called a temporary restraining order.
“We are very pleased that Mr. Elliott will finally be given the opportunity to have an impartial decision-maker carefully examine the NFL’s misconduct,” Elliott’s attorneys said in a statement. “This is just the beginning of the unveiling of the NFL’s mishandling as it relates to Mr. Elliott’s suspension.”
As hideous as the accusations against Elliott are, it is undeniable that the NFL’s history of handling major disciplinary issues has been deplorable, and the union has used this opportunity for another plea to change a system that gives Goodell far too much power.
“Commissioner discipline will continue to be a distraction from our game for one reason: because NFL owners have refused to collectively bargain a fair and transparent process that exists in other sports,” the union said in a release. “This ‘imposed’ system remains problematic for players and the game, but as the honest and honorable testimony of a few NFL employees recently revealed, it also demonstrates the continued lack of integrity within their own League office.”
The cold reality among NFL fans is that many of them only want to know how any of this is going to affect them or their favorite team, because there are fantasy lineups to be posted and playoff hopes to be considered. All we know for sure right now is that Elliott will play Sunday night, when the Cowboys open their season against the New York Giants in Arlington, Texas and for the moment is eligible to play the remainder of the season, too.
Goodell and the league lose again because they have bungled the process. The NFLPA looks bad too because it is defending a man accused of horrible acts.
The undisputed winners: The lawyers whose billable hours will pile up faster than Drew Brees’ career passing yards.
Seahawks ready to run again
A year ago Russell Wilson played through myriad injuries and the Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted running game tumbled to 25th in the NFL after the temporary retirement of Marshawn Lynch, who is now doing his Beast Mode thing in his hometown of Oakland. Coach Pete Carroll was determined to rekindle the Seahawks’ rush in the offseason and believes he did so with the free-agent acquisition of Eddie Lacy, who was limited to five games last year with Green Bay. Somehow you get the feeling he is going to be resurrected with Seattle in much the same way Jerome Bettis was after being traded from the Rams to the Steelers in the mid-1990s.
Rumors circulated for much of the offseason that the Seahawks also wanted to trade superstar cornerback Richard Sherman. But he is still around, and the Seahawks defense is still elite, making them the NFC favorite to return to a third Super Bowl in five years.
The coaching stories
Officially there are five new NFL coaches, including former Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who left that same job in Carolina to replace Rex Ryan in Buffalo. McDermott still looks as if he is 21, but coaching a Bills franchise that has not been to the playoffs since 1999 could accelerate the aging process. At least he does not have to worry about going gray.
Vance Joseph is the luckiest of the new coaches, taking over a dominating defense in Denver after Gary Kubiak’s retirement for health reasons.
After years without one team, Los Angeles now has two after the Chargers joined the Rams by moving from San Diego in the offseason. Both teams have new coaches. At 31, the Rams’ Sean McVay is the youngest coach in modern NFL history. He balanced out the average age of his staff, however, by hiring 70-year-old Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator.
Anthony Lynn takes over with the Chargers, who will play their home games this season in the StubHub Center in Carson Calif. The built-for-soccer stadium has a capacity of 30,000 for NFL games.
Former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan got his first head coaching gig in San Francisco, where he replaces Chip Kelly. Doug Marrone actually took over near the end of last season in Jacksonville, but it bodes well for him that Tom Coughlin kept him on board after returning to the Jags as executive vice president.
If you’re looking for coaches on the hot seat, start with this list of four: Chicago’s John Fox, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Indianapolis’ Chuck Pagano, and the New York Jets’ Todd Bowles.
Fox needs to win in his third season with the Bears, and doesn’t Lewis have to win his first playoff game in his 15th season with the Bengals? Pagano’s stock has slipped, and it does not help that the Colts will open the season without quarterback Andrew Luck. Bowles is in trouble because the Jets could go winless.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt has been the NFL defensive player of the year twice and registered 76 sacks in six seasons, but nothing will ever compare to his humanitarian act to help the people of his home city after Hurricane Harvey. After initially stating that he wanted to raise $200,000 to aide flood victims, the fund started by Watt had reached $27 million by Wednesday. He also was on the front lines helping people on the streets.
Thanks in part to an incredibly generous $5 million donation from Mr. Charles Butt at HEB. https://t.co/SR6DmnNbyM
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) September 6, 2017
Never has a long-snapper been more beloved in any city than the affable Jon Dorenbos was in Philadelphia, and that’s saying something because his Eagles predecessor Mike Bartrum was also an all-time good guy. It was really sad to see the Eagles trade Dorenbos to the New Orleans Saints last month, and it is even more disturbing to hear he needs open heart surgery after team doctors discovered an aortic aneurysm. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery and goes on to a long career as a brilliant magician.
Games of the week
Early afternoon: Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans (1 p.m., no local TV)
This is a battle of two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. Derek Carr, 26, was an MVP candidate last year before a broken leg knocked him out in Week 16 and doomed the Raiders’ playoff hopes. Marcus Mariota, 23, finished 10th in the league with 26 touchdown passes and a 95.6 passer rating.
Late afternoon: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (4:25 p.m, Fox29)
What better way for Eddie Lacy to make his Seattle debut than against the Packers in Lambeau Field? According to the Las Vegas oddsmakers, these two teams are the favorites to play in this year’s NFC championship game.
Sunday night: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (8:30 p.m., NBC10)
The Cowboys went 13-3 last season, but two of those losses were to the Giants, who have won the last three meetings between the teams. With a six-game suspension to star back Ezekiel Elliott looming the Cowboys cannot afford to lose this opener.
Monday night: New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (7:10 p.m., ESPN)
The annual opening-week doubleheader will also feature the L.A. Chargers at Denver (10:20 p.m., ESPN), but the early game is more interesting. When is it not fun to watch Drew Brees go against Sam Bradford? Brees, 38, needs 5,829 yards to pass Peyton Manning as the all-time career leader. He has never thrown for that many yards in a season, but he has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in four of the last six seasons.