Cowboys’ Elliott can’t keep from flirting with trouble

LLANO, Texas – Update from Cowboy Country: Just when we thought they’d turned the corner on domestic violence – gun-toting Greg Hardy dismissed a year ago, following Dez Bryant being sternly reprimanded for beating up his mom — we have the strange case of Ezekiel Elliott.

He’s as unfocused off the field as he is focused on it.

On the field: he leads the NFL in rushing, makes all the right moves, all the right decisions, sees everything, never misses a pass-block.

Off the field: leads the NFL in illegal use of the hands, has a moral compass that’s constantly wavering, sees things he’d be better off not seeing.

During a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas, he pulled down a woman’s shirt to expose a breast. The incident was caught on video camera, and soon TMZ was running with it like Elliott carrying a football behind Zack Martin.

Who knows where this story ends? Perhaps there will be a lawsuit with an undisclosed settlement.

Perhaps there’s a suspension for the season opener. The NFL is much less forgiving of violence against women than it used to be.

Truth is this story will never end. There’s video.

And this is not the only problem the Cowboys have encountered in this way-off off-season. The bluebonnets are dancing, but there’s a chill around the Cowboys.

The offensive line, the strength of the team other than Elliott’s running, has lost two of its starters. Ron Leary, a masterful technician at left guard, signed with Denver. Doug Free retired — not necessarily a bad thing. He was OK at run blocking but a liability in protection.

Meanwhile, the secondary has undergone a purge. Safety Barry Church, the hardest hitter on the defense, a poor man’s Kam Chancellor, departed in free agency along with both starting cornerbacks, Mo Claiborne and Brandon Carr.

Not to overstate the losses. Claiborne is a shutdown corner who is usually shut down. 

Carr last season gave up a passer rating of over 100. He got picked on like bluebonnets.

Still, except on those blessed Sundays when Claiborne was healthy, Carr was the ‘Boys’ best corner. He gave up more than his share of receptions because he was covering the best receiver on the field.

So they need a step forward from the promising sophomore corner Anthony Young, and they need healthy legs for Orlando Scandrick.

And they need help from the draft. Which is not expecting too much, considering their successes in recent years, as Stephen Jones has become de facto CEO. Father Jerry seems happy being the front man.

The line will be fine. La’el Collins has more upside than Leary, especially in the run game. Chaz Green is a more nimble tackle than Free. The secondary issues are secondary.

But Elliott is the biggest part of the offense, and much of the value of the Dallas Cowboys brand. That’s something Jerry Jones understands and appreciates.

Dallas sees itself, accurately in my view, as a booming modern, forward-looking city. The mayor two years ago publicly chastised the Joneses for bringing in Hardy, who was arrested on cocaine charges after the Cowboys disowned him. There was audio on Hardy dragging his girlfriend across his floor, but there was no video, which has proved career-ending for Ray Rice.

The Big D is weary of Johnny Manziel, who nearly became a Cowboy (Stephen Jones stopped his dad from letting it happen) and was granted a year of probation, with charges dropped for sexual assault. Patience is waning when it comes to the serial enabling by Jerry. This might be the time for tough love.

Elliott had one of his cohorts explain that the St. Paddy pat was all in good fun and the woman was not complaining.

This was depicted as Mardi Gras Light. Video was produced of the woman raising her top and flashing the crowd a few minutes after she was slapping Zeke’s hand as it lingered over her bared bosom. Hey, girl, his entourage was saying, make up your mind.

Three days later there is still no public apology by Elliott. He’s 21, was just having fun, no harm done, he and his buddies want us to believe. But it would be better for him if this were an isolated incident.

Alas, he remains under investigation in Ohio for alleged sexual assault last year. He was accused of committing five acts of if against the same woman during a six-day period. The evidence against him seems flawed, and he’s likely to avoid arrest.

With the Ohio case not coming together, Elliott was believed to be safe from the long arm of Roger Goodell. But the latest misadventure could have consequences. When Goodell suspended Ben Roethlisberger for inappropriate behavior with women, no charges had been filed. And there was no video. But Big Ben was told he’s “held to a higher standard as an NFL player.”

By that logic, Elliott is very much in trouble. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King said he “just doesn’t get it. . . . He’s in danger of not getting a second contract.”

He did not enhance his own brand — never mind the Cowboys’ – when he was photographed visiting a recreational marijuana shop in Seattle a few hours before a Cowboys’ preseason game. Nothing illegal there, but in the NFL marijuana is a banned substance. No team wants to be linked to it.

Then there was an episode in Columbus last month, when Elliott accompanied a friend who was arrested for carrying a gun into a bar.

Here again, nothing illegal about having a stupid friend. But too much of what Zeke is doing is just plain stupid, and some of it could even be illegal. As for the Cowboys’ front office: put the draft aside for a moment. Set up counseling for an immature and confused Ezekiel Elliott.

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