The ongoing feud between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is threatening the very union of owners and league offices, according to a report posted Friday by ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham.
Titled, “Roger Goodell has a Jerry Jones problem and nobody knows how it will end,” Van Natta and Wickersham take us behind the scenes of the issue that allegedly has the NFL on the brink of “all-out civil war” between owners and league executives.
The article opens with a doozy of a story, from the day Goodell called Jones on August 9 to let him know that a decision had been made in the case of Cowboys’ star running back Ezekiel Elliott and allegations that he had been abusive toward a former girlfriend. The league had been investigating for months. Goodell and a panel of advisors decided to give Elliott a six-game suspension, the punishment the NFL had settled on months earlier, after the Ray Rice debacle, for players involved in domestic violence incidents.
It’s protocol that owners get a heads-up 48 hours before a formal announcement is made, and the call to Jones did not go well.
“The line went quiet. Seconds passed. Goodell’s decision was an unconscionable violation of trust, Jones later told associates, because he believed that the commissioner had assured him this past spring that there would be no suspension. Jones saw in Elliott a genuine opportunity, a player so good that he had made Jones believe that this year he just might win a Super Bowl for the first time since 1996. His anger was palpable. Finally, according to sources with direct knowledge of the call, Jones broke the silence. He aimed his words not only at Goodell’s decision but also at his role as judge, jury and executioner in the case.
“‘I’m gonna come after you with everything I have,’ Jones said. Then he mentioned Deflategate. ‘If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p—y compared to what I’m going to do.'”
In the months since, we’ve gotten an idea of what Jones meant.
Other details revealed in the story:
Just days before the call to Jones about Elliott’s suspension, Goodell and Jones embraced at Jones’ over-the-top Hall of Fame induction celebration at a country club in Canton, Ohio, a multi-million dollar affair that included a two-hour set from performer Justin Timberlake. Goodell knew at the time Elliott would be suspended, but held off saying anything given the setting;
Sometime before Jones was part of the ownership group that got Goodell elevated to commissioner in August 2006, Goodell convinced other owners to give Jones the loans he “all but begged” for at a league meeting, when he needed millions more from the G3 loan program to cover the rising costs of AT&T Stadium;
Even before the Elliott situation and even though he’s publicly supported Goodell for years, Jones has been wary of the way Goodell has handled crises. The commissioner responded to many situations by expanding the power of the league, adding executives who receive generous salaries and equally generous budgets with which to operate. For example, Jones questioned the hiring of Lisa Friel to investigate criminal allegations against players; in a closed-door meeting, Van Natta and Wickersham write, Jones argued that the league “creating its own law enforcement arm might not solve the problems of the NFL and would, more likely, create a new set of them.” This has proven true in the Elliott case, as Kia Roberts, the lead investigator on the case, said she did not find Elliott’s alleged victim credible and therefore he should not be suspended. Roberts’ advice, according to reports, was ignored;
As Goodell’s contract extension drags on (his current deal isn’t set to expire until 2019), he’s reportedly “furious” and “emboldened” that owners would ask him to take a pay cut, given that league profits have soared in his decade as commissioner and Goodell has taken many bullets for the owners;
While there appears to be no logical successor to Goodell in place, at least some owners have considered who would replace the 58-year old. Van Natta and Wickersham report that a confidant of one owner reached out to current NBA commissioner Adam Silver to gauge Silver’s interest in running the NFL. Silver immediately said no. There has also, apparently been consideration given to having former commish Paul Tagliabue return on an interim basis, until a proper replacement is found;
Van Natta and Wickersham sources say Jones has vowed to make Goodell’s life miserable, and that Jones’ interference in Goodell’s contract extension is entirely about power and control, not money.
As usual, it’s compelling work from Van Natta and Wickersham, and worth reading in its entirety when you have a few minutes.