December 7, 2017 at 8:44 AM
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has his new contract extension, an enormous deal that also happens to represent victory over one owner who had sparked an ugly rift that exposed tensions among owners and tore back the curtain on inner workings that millionaire and billionaire owners would prefer to remain secret.
Goodell and the NFL’s compensation committee reached agreement Wednesday on a five-year extension worth up to $200 million, one that could top out at about $40 million annually with close to 90 percent tied to incentives. The contract was months in the making, mostly because Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was in open revolt.
“What many owners said in the past few days was they wanted to get on with the business of the league, and there are a lot of issues very important right now that must be addressed,” Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who heads the six-owner committee, told SI’s Peter King. “Now we’ll get to focus on the real issues. The important thing is, the owners have confidence in Roger, and they wanted him to continue. There was no doubt about that.”
Along the way, though, Jones threw a fit, with one-high ranking official with an NFL team telling The Post’s Kent Babb and Mark Maske last month that “it’s mostly a temper tantrum.” If so, it was an effective one, with Jones seeking to wrest control of the process by forcing his way onto the committee, trying to lead an uprising of owners to block a new deal or oust Goodell, and hired an attorney who was prepared to sue the league if it proceeded with approving Goodell’s new deal.
Shades of the late Al Davis, without the affection that the passage of time has brought to his squabbles.
As the contract was being completed over the past few days, a relieved Blank told King that he had reached out to Jones, who, he said, “understands the contract and how we got here.”
We’ll see how well that works out in a week, when owners have an annual meeting Dec. 13 in Irving, Tex. — Jones’s backyard. There’s plenty of ugliness to overcome, given ESPN’s report of what went down when Jones was told of running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension in August. “I’m gonna come after you with everything I have,” Jones said, according to ESPN. He went on to mention Deflategate, for which New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games at the start of the 2016 season. “If you think [Patriots owner] Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a [expletive] compared to what I’m going to do.”
Things got so bad that there were threats that Jones could be stripped of ownership of the team or at least disciplined in some fashion by fellow owners.
“Clearly, around Roger’s contract there have been threats of litigation that I have already spent too much of my life in depositions. I want to try and minimize that going forward,” Jonathan Kraft, the Patriots’ president and son of Bob Kraft, said last month. “I am not going to comment on that process, but what I would say is Jerry, back when our fan base and ourselves were going through the whole air pressure thing, Jerry had gone through the salary cap stuff, and he said basically, ‘I think y’all should take your medicine and just focus on winning football games.’”
Kraft was referring to the Cowboys being docked $10 million in salary cap space in 2012 and 2013 as punishment for how they structured players’ contracts during the NFL’s 2010 season without a salary cap. (The Washington Redskins were similarly punished.) The Krafts were indeed furious as Deflategate dominated 2015 headlines and Robert Kraft scathingly said, “I was wrong to put my faith in the league,” adding, “I have come to the conclusion this was never about doing what was fair and just.” Patriots fans were irate, and Goodell didn’t return to Gillette Stadium until this year.
“[W]hen you’re upset and you’re angry it’s not what you want to hear because I don’t think Tom was treated fairly,” Jonathan Kraft said. “I don’t think any of our fans feel Tom was treated fairly, but we ended up taking that advice and we ended up winning the Super Bowl. I think it was good advice.”
Jones has a point that plenty of serious issues are confronting owners, such as television ratings, attendance, national anthem demonstrations that have drawn the ire of President Trump and decreased involvement by kids in youth football. Many of those issues centered around the anthem demonstrations and Jones was adamant about requiring players to stand. The other NFL owners chose a more reasoned path, focusing on discussions that led to the league and the Players Coalition reaching agreement on a fund to support social-justice programs in at-risk communities.
Now, it’s business as usual for the owners. Most of them, anyway.
“One thing that’s come out of this that’s very good, I believe, is the fact that owners are going to have a much more open line of communication with Roger now,” Blank told King. “At every owners’ meeting now, we’re going to have an owners-only session, and then an owners session with Roger, with everyone else out of the room. The owners asked for that contact, and it’s a reasonable thing to ask. We’re going to do it.”
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