The pay structure and approval process for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s proposed contract extension are central issues in an escalating feud between the league and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who is demanding changes to the deal before it is finalized.
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Jones is threatening to sue the league, arguing its compensation committee, headed by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, misled NFL owners about negotiations on Goodell’s contract, ESPN reported. He wants the NFL to allow all 32 owners to vote on the final contract, not just the committee’s six members.
Jones is also one of multiple NFL owners who purportedly insisted that Goodell’s next deal feature performance-based pay tied to Goodell’s ability to address major business issues – a concept that reportedly infuriated Goodell. The Cowboys owner explained his stance in an interview with the 105.3 The Fan radio station in Dallas.
“We all see how impactful a commissioner's decision can be in many areas. We've given him a lot of power. I think we need the checks and balances of ownership having to actually be in a position to not just suggest but approve of his decisions. So that's what this is about,” Jones said.
The NFL has experienced unprecedented financial success under Goodell, with roughly $14 billion in annual revenue as of 2017. Goodell has earned more than $200 million since he assumed the role of commissioner in 2006. Under the proposed terms of Goodell’s new contract, he would remain commissioner through 2024.
However, Goodell has also presided over several widely-criticized controversies, including the NFL’s handling of national anthem protests, domestic violence and concussion scandals, polarizing relocations of multiple NFL franchises to new markets, the lengthy “Deflategate” dispute with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and declining television ratings.
Aside from concerns related to those business challenges, Jones has publicly challenged Goodell in recent days over the league’s handling of Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence, after a year-long investigation. Jones has argued that Elliott, who was never arrested or charged with a crime, has been treated unfairly throughout the disciplinary process.
"I'd like to completely take this commissioner's name out of my response," Jones said. "To a large degree, it's not about Roger Goodell. It's about the power of the commissioner as it relates to ownership. To the extent that the ownership hires him, extends him, pays him on an ongoing basis, the ownership should have first-hand approval. Each owner should approve that.”
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said this week that the league is aware of Jones’ legal threat, but has not been informed of a formal filing of any suit. Lockhart also referred to ESPN’s report that Goodell was “furious” about the negotiations as “nonsense” and described the talks as “amicable.”
The NFL’s 32 owners, including Jones, voted unanimously in May to empower the compensation committee to pursue a contract extension with Goodell. The committee is composed of Blank, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, John Mara of the New York Giants, Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In objecting to Goodell’s extension as currently constructed, ESPN reports that Jones says owners were not adequately informed about certain elements of the deal, including a plan for discretionary bonuses. Jones is arguing that the final deal should be subject to a vote by all 32 owners.
“I don’t think this will go to court,” former NFL head coach Sam Wyche, a friend of Jones, told FOX Business Network’s Stuart Varney on Friday. “This may be one of those ways of him working into a negotiating position where he can get that three-fourths of a vote for either extensions or increases in salary. What Jerry Jones keeps saying is he wants [a] performance-based contract – in other words, do a better job.”