The start of the 2017 season for the Dallas Cowboys began the only way it could, in prime time.
The featured divisional matchup, originally announced back in April, promised another hyped edition of New York versus Dallas. Odell Beckham versus Dez Bryant in the battle of big money receivers. Eli "facial expression" Manning versus the man that sent Tony Romo to the announcing booth. Jason Witten's likely ascent past the playmaker for the most receiving yards in team history. All the bright lights and glamour that comes with the number one media market facing the NFL's most valuable team.
Then an addendum. Beckham missed the game due to an injury, but Ezekiel Elliott suited up for the game when it looked like he would be the one forced to sit out the opener. It took all sorts of legal finagling but Elliott made his 2017 debut six weeks earlier than anticipated. This was certainly a storyline that had people talking, but for all the wrong reasons.
Zeke, his lawyers, and the NFL Players association had been climbing the legal ladder with the NFL after he was handed a six game suspension for allegations of domestic violence in August. Elliott claimed complete innocence, and the league stated there was sufficient evidence for them to move forward with impunity.
The Friday before the start of the season, Elliott was granted a preliminary injunction. The evidence against him was not discussed, merely whether he received a fair arbitration hearing deciding his punishment. This set Elliott up to be allowed to play while the legal process continues.
He was kept out of the end zone, but still ran over the New York defense for 104 yards on 24 carries. He went five for five on receptions to add an additional 36 yards in the 19-3 win. The home crowd was certainly excited to see him on the field, but the looming stigma remained over the Running Back.
According to the latest NFLShop.com report, Elliott has the fourth highest selling jersey, with teammate and fellow "214" tag team member Dak Prescott earning the third spot. Tom Brady, the NFL's previous dance partner in the legal world, comes in at number one.
As much as they complement each other on the field, Prescott has been the complete opposite of it. Staying out of the headlines and becoming one of the NFL's biggest advertisement stars, with deals with Campbell's Chunky soup and even being added to the Sunday Night Football opening credits. Yet the merchandise numbers speak for themselves, and Elliott remains one of the league's most popular players in spite of his distractions.
All signs point to Zeke suiting up against the Denver Broncos in Week 2 and beyond, with the litigation continuing possibly through the end of the season. The delicate nature of the allegations against Elliott require the legal process to play out, but leaks of testimony and other documents have led fans to take sides in the issue, which is unavoidable but dangerous to both parties.
All the dirty laundry comes out in these situations, and in Zeke's case, even with it looking like he will ultimately win his appeal, the added damage to his already shaky reputation will remain.
Feel like Ezekiel Elliott should take a seat? Think the NFL hasn't provided due process? Share your thoughts with Irvin on Twitter @twittirv.