Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wage war on each other, and the league’s media camp followers pick sides.
ESPN, which suffers under the weight of its onerous contract with the NFL, strangely cozies up to the commissioner in an explosive and revealing article depicting Jerry Jones as petty and petulant in his stance obstructing the extension of Goodell’s contract.
The piece written by Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham points to the commissioner’s suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekial Elliott as the alpha and omega of Jones souring on Goodell. Jones allegedly believed Goodell assured him that Elliott, who faced no criminal charges over abuse allegations, would also face no league discipline, at least no punishment sidelining him from games. Then, after a league investigator characterized the accusations against Elliott as not credible and recommended no suspension, Goodell went against his investigator suspended the elite running back six games.
“I’m gonna come after you with everything I have,” ESPN reports Jones telling Goodell. He proceeded to obliquely reference Deflategate. “If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard,” the Cowboys owner warned, “Bob Kraft is a p—y compared to what I’m going to do.”
The article also places the current fight in the context of Deflategate, where Jones and other owners praised the league for the harsh penalties meted out against the New England Patriots. Team owner Bob Kraft, according to ESPN, told the commissioner regarding the Elliott matter, “My guy got four games for footballs and there’s still nothing on this?”
The article relies on anonymous “league sources,” who, truth be told, depend on Goodell remaining commissioner to remain secure in their jobs. The piece generally portray the owners as holding petty grudges against Goodell. But it notes the mishaps the commissioner made in making himself vulnerable.
Roger Goodell lords over a league that takes in more than double the dollars than the one over which Paul Tagliabue presided. But his crisis management regarding the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal, the concussion controversy surrounding the game, and Deflategate all did what Goodell demands others not do: tarnish the shield. Beyond this, ratings for Sunday Night Football appear down eight percent over last season, which declined from the season before that. Overall, ratings, through ten games, registered a six percent decline from last season, which, again, declined last season from the season before that. The league, which punishes players for wearing unauthorized clothing and even headphones, taking a passive stance on disrespect to the country during the playing of the national anthem ranks as the chief reason explaining the fan exodus. Goodell’s overly optimistic view of the ability of Los Angeles supporting two NFL franchises also plays into the distrust of his leadership.
Goodell, whose performance largely went unchallenged so long as the league grew its revenues, expressed anger over the not-for-long NFL axiom applied to players now applying to him, according to ESPN.
A long-held assumption has been that Goodell wants another long-term deal. Those who have discussed the contract situation with him have described him as “furious” and “emboldened” at the notion of accepting a deep pay cut after making the owners a lot of money over the years, watching their teams’ valuations skyrocket and taking many bullets for them. ESPN has reported that he asked in August for a compensation package of about $49 million a year, if every incentive is met, plus use of a private jet for life and health care for life for his family. But most owners expect him to land in the range of $40 million a year. If owners decide to squeeze him too hard, he might walk away. He knows that there’s no clear successor, which is both a failing on his part and a source of leverage.
The article cites overtures made to NBA commissioner Adam Silver and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to step into Goodell’s spot should owners decide to change course. Ultimately, Roger Goodell, despite serving as the commissioner of the league, works for Jerry Jones, and 31 other owners, and not the reverse. Whether Jones succeeds to in replacing Goodell, he likely makes the point that the boss of the league is not its commissioner but the 32 individuals, families, and investor groups who collectively own the NFL.