The odds are against Ezekiel Elliott beating Roger Goodell. Joe Mixon looks good, but he can't outrun his past. And Odell Beckham opens eyes yet again. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.
1. Article 46
If you want to understand what's next for Ezekiel Elliott—and whether he will be able to beat the six-game suspension which the NFL imposed on him Friday—remember this phrase: Article 46.
It is the Superman of labor mechanisms, a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can apply to almost anything when it comes to discipline. And if Elliott is to escape his punishment, he must overcome Article 46, which has proven to be almost impossible.
Specifically, the rule states that the NFL commissioner can punish a player for "conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football."
In effect, this means that Goodell can punish a player for whatever he damn well pleases.
And since Article 46 was collectively bargained, legal challenges by players, like Tom Brady's in Deflategate, usually fail. Courts are loath to interfere with a CBA.
Effectively, this means it is a near-certainty Elliott will serve his suspension at some point.
But that point may not be now. Elliott could start this coming season and play a large chunk of the year, or all of it.
A Cowboys source told B/R that Elliott plans to fight the suspension "as hard as Tom Brady did," and team owner Jerry Jones could join Elliott in fighting the league. Elliott's father tweeted that his son's legal team "is ready to fight."
What does fighting as hard as Brady mean? Based on my knowledge of how these standoffs have gone before and interviews with people around the league, Elliott will presumably follow the following path:
- He'll appeal the suspension, and he'll likely lose. (The process is essentially rigged against the players, as Goodell—or someone he appoints—acts as judge.)
- Assuming Elliott loses his first appeal, he will likely go the legal route.
It's the same path Brady traveled, and it almost worked that time. Brady initially appealed to Goodell and lost, but a federal court then overturned the suspension after Brady sued. Brady then lost again when the NFL appealed to the U.S. Second Circuit, essentially reaffirming Article 46.
Though Brady ultimately failed, his attempts to reduce his suspension kept him on the field for the entire 2015 season, which Elliott and his legal team certainly know. The lawsuits and delays worked. Brady didn't serve his suspension until last season.
Elliott could try the same thing, which means he could end up playing the entire upcoming season.
It's not certain whether Elliott will follow the Brady path, but the arrows all seem to be pointing in that direction. That mean another challenge for the NFL's ace card, Article 46.
2. Steelers' Vote Was the Canary in the Coal Mine
When the union and NFL agreed to ratify the last collective bargaining agreement in 2011, just one team voted against it—the Steelers.
Pittsburgh players were concerned that the new CBA gave Goodell too much power. Since then, Goodell has wielded that power heavily. Many of the league's players have come to hate his ability to dispense NFL justice with so few levers available to players to mount a defense.
It looks like the Steelers players were right to worry about the union handing over too much authority.
3. The Uncomfortable Superstar
Of all the rookies I've seen in preseason games this year, none has been more impressive than Joe Mixon.
The Bengals running back has shown an almost uncanny adaptability and understanding of the game while also demonstrating elite speed and solid blocking ability.
Many in the league have long believed that Mixon would be good, even special. His talent has never been in question. But after he was caught on a surveillance tape punching a woman in the face, Mixon's judgment has.
Mixon could eventually become one of the NFL's next offensive stars. That's the good news. The bad news is that video will stick to Mixon.
Is that fair? Well, yeah. A grown man punched a woman in the face.
You can't outrun that kind of horrible act. You shouldn't be able to, either.
4. Too Much, Too Soon
It may be the preseason, but that doesn't mean there aren't big hits. It's still football, after all.
It also was a perfect example of why preseason play should be limited to two games, or perhaps less. There's no reason for players to be exposed to a regular-season-style physical beating in a meaningless game multiple times.
5. When Will Bell Ring In to Steelers Camp?
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell still isn't at camp, and I've been told not a single person on the team knows when he is showing up. He's only returning texts from one or two players, although he's still in contact with head coach Mike Tomlin, according to Bryan DeArdo of 247Sports.
Bell seems to be taking a fairly hard line (for now). The Steelers hope Bell will ease his stance. The players are caught somewhere in the middle, which is no place to be with the season getting closer by the day.
6. Mike Evans Is a Star
I hadn't really thought about how good Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans has been in his first three seasons until I noticed this dispatch from Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.
Evans has been sort of lost in the haze of magnificent young receivers like Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., but he has been one of the league's steadiest forces throughout his young career. He's as strong, talented and as good of a route-runner as almost anyone.
Yet he remains a low-key, overlooked superstar. That might change this year if the Bucs improve as much as many around the league suspect they might.
7. More Barriers Falling in the NFL
Quietly, a fairly substantial moment in NFL history recently happened. Katie Sowers became just the second woman named to a full-time position on an NFL staff when she accepted an offer to join the 49ers as a coach.
People in the NFL continue to tell me they believe there will be a female coordinator in the league within five years and a head coach not long after that.
8. Bucs GM Takes the Blame
When the Buccaneers drafted kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft, some in the league told me the pick was one of the worst, if not the worst, of all time.
General manager Jason Licht, who selected Aguayo last year, released him this week. Then came a fairly remarkable moment in an interview with Peter King of The MMQB: Licht owned up to his mistake.
"I'm owning up to it. I'm owning up to it by releasing him. It was a bold move and it didn't work out. I don't know what else to say. …
"At the time, I was bound and determined to get the best kicker we possibly could. I thought Roberto had the chance to be a special kicker in the league for a long time … If I could do it again, I would have gone back and brought in competition to challenge him … Roberto is a great kid, but the magnitude of that position, and the pressure on a 21-year-old—his performance is affecting the lives of men who have families to support. That got tough."
That doesn't happen often. Many general managers never admit mistakes, at least publicly.
Good for Licht.
9. OBJ Makes Us Go WOW Once Again
Odell Beckham does so many remarkable things, we take them for granted. He makes incredible catch after incredible catch, our eyes pop open wide and we move on.
Look at this one, though.
Understand the degree of difficulty involved. While going against a Pro Bowl corner, he snagged the football out of the air the way a bear grabs a salmon from a stream. That's impressive.
Few receivers in the history of the game can make these catches on a regular basis, and I don't care that he's wearing high-tech gloves.
Beckham is that good. Let's try not to take that for granted.
10. Player Protests May Be Just Beginning
If you think NFL players were done protesting after the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, well, they aren't. Last week, Seattle defender Michael Bennett took a seat during the national anthem. Marshawn Lynch also did so in Oakland.
After the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, five players texted with me, and each said they expect more players to protest during the national anthem this coming season. The players also told me there was mass outrage over both the actions of the neo-Nazis and other white supremacists along with the impotent reaction from President Donald Trump.
This could get interesting.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.