Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been handed a six-game suspension by the NFL 385 days after an alleged domestic violence incident that yielded no criminal charges.
Frankly, I'm surprised by the number. The day news broke of Elliott's alleged domestic violence, we reported that Elliott had text messages saved that proved his former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson was trying to set him up. The police report shows text messages between Thompson and a friend that support that claim.
But the league clearly believes they found more to substantiate a suspension than the Columbus Police Department did to substantiate criminal charges. Now, it wouldn't be the first time a local police department failed to find evidence in a case involving a famous college athlete, so I'm not necessarily taking the lack of criminal charges as gospel.
But the text messages between Thompson and her friend Ayrin Mason certainly call into question the allegations Thompson made against Elliott. Mason texted Thompson, asking "do you want me to lie about what happened that night [because] Zeke's lawyer is about to call me again." After hurriedly asking Mason to call her, Thompson responds "yes".
But that element of the investigation clearly wasn't enough to convince the NFL that Elliott was innocent. And frankly, it shouldn't necessarily do so. It calls into question Thompson's legitimacy. But it doesn't prove that anything did or did not happen.
But regardless, Elliott now faces this six game suspension. He'll almost assuredly appeal in the coming days, and the number could be reduced; possibly even halved. But the Cowboys will likely be without Elliott for at least some period of time.
So what do they do in the interim. For me, the biggest question isn't at running back. Between Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, the Cowboys have two capable running backs who have proven their ability to be 1,000-plus yard backs in this league. Rod Smith has also shown an ability to produce, if called upon. The Cowboys should still be able to run the football with reasonable effectiveness, sans Zeke.
But it won't be the same. The threat of Elliott does things to a defense -- and their ability to gameplan -- that McFadden, Morris, and Smith just cannot provide.
So my question is at quarterback.
Don't misunderstand me. I think Dak Prescott is a very good quarterback, who has the physical -- and more importantly mental -- tools to play the position well. But there's no two ways about it -- Elliott's production in 2016 made Dak's life easier. Much easier. Not having #21 behind him every play will provide a new challenge for Prescott that he hasn't dealt with in his young NFL career.
Do I think Prescott can handle the challenge? Yes, I do. But I will be intrigued to watch the games where Elliott is out, to see how much more difficult things really become for Dak.
Elliott's suspension is unquestionably a blow to the Cowboys. The offense is going to be the driving force for this team, no doubt. And not having Elliott hamstring's every facet of the Cowboys attack.
Whether it stays at 6 games, drops to 4, 3, or any other number -- getting through that stretch at .500 or better will probably be a positive outcome for the Cowboys.