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What happens when an NFL owner steps down or dies? Jerry Jones describes the succession plan

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones studies his notes before his state-of-the-team news conference Wednesday. (Gus Ruelas / AP)

Five NFL teams have had a change in ownership over the last two years and, although football is a game, it’s also a very important business.

That means that owners give a great deal of attention to the plans for the succession of ownership. On Wednesday, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen relinquished control of the team because he has Alzheimer’s disease and the Dallas Morning News pulled back the curtain on how owners manage the transfer of power. For one thing, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told David Moore, the NFL — which, really, is the owners — requires each owner to meet with league officials once a year to go over and provide updates on succession plans.

“They can’t have chaos among ownership,’’ Jones said. “I can’t, the Cowboys can’t afford chaos because it impacts us all. The league has every right to demand it. They are diligent about it. It’s huge as to the financial aspects, the financial consequences, the tax consequences, how it can impact fans and the league.”

The Broncos are held in a family trust and team president Joe Ellis has made the major decisions for the last four years, with Bowlen’s input. Ellis now becomes chief executive officer. Over the last two years, Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson, Tennessee’s Bud Adams, Detroit’s William Ford and Tampa Bay’s Malcolm Glazer have died and most provided for their children to take control of the team. (The Bills, though, are an exception; they’re up for sale.)

“The point is, the structure and the stability of the franchise can be impacted by death or a changing of the guard,” Jones, 71, told Moore as he spoke about the silver anniversary of his ownership of the team. “Our plan, frankly, I’ve had this plan since I bought the team. What I didn’t know was how effective these people were going to be and how focused and interested they were going to be in the ensuing years.”

Owning an NFL team, Jones pointed out, is a way of life for his kids, who work for the team, and said they have “made it their lives.”

“Sitting here 25 years later, it would have to go down as a highlight, our working relationship,” he said. “Anyone who knows family relationships knows that working together does not necessarily work out, especially between siblings.  I’m very proud of the fact that publicly and privately, I have people say the thing that impresses them most about me is my family.”

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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