The commissioner’s extension from league owners comes at a turbulent time for the NFL. TV ratings have sagged over the past two seasons, and this season the league and Goodell have faced intense criticism by President Trump and some fans about players’ protests during the national anthem. When owners met in October, they declined to enact a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem. They said they instead were focused on discussions with the players about league support of players’ community activism.
Those discussions culminated with an agreement on a social justice initiative by which the league and owners would contribute about $90 million between the onset of the deal and 2023 to social causes considered important to players, particularly in African American communities. Both sides have said the agreement does not require players to stand for the anthem, and the issue remains unresolved as players have continued to protest in the wake of the deal.
Should the protests endure for the remainder of the season, people familiar with the owners’ thinking have said, the league could change the anthem policy for next season and keep players in the locker rooms until after the anthem is played, similar to the sport’s approach before 2009.
Goodell was elected by the owners in 2006 to succeed Paul Tagliabue as commissioner and has led the sport through a turbulent time that has included a work stoppage and controversies over matters as consequential as concussions suffered by players and domestic violence cases and as seemingly inconsequential as the air pressure in footballs. He has drawn sharp criticism for the league’s handling of player disciplinary cases involving Ray Rice, Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott.
It is not clear whether the deal will encounter further opposition from Jones, who threatened to sue over Goodell’s extension but rescinded that threat. Some within the league believed Jones’s threat stemmed from Elliott’s suspension.
Owners are scheduled to meet next week in Dallas. Jones sought increased input by owners not on the compensation committee, which is led by the Atlanta Falcons’ Arthur Blank, into Goodell’s contract. He also sought a final ratification vote by all owners once the deal was completed.
The league has maintained there will not be another vote of the owners. The owners voted, 32-0, at their May meeting in Chicago to authorize the compensation committee to negotiate the new deal with Goodell.
Jones served for a period of time as a nonvoting member of the compensation committee. But that arrangement ended after he informed other committee members that he had hired attorney David Boies and was prepared to file a lawsuit opposing Goodell’s extension.
That began a tense standoff between Jones and other owners. There was a flurry of threats, accusations and letters sent back and forth. Jones accused Blank of misleading owners about the negotiations. He contended that such a significant investment in the commissioner was not justified at a time when the league was facing financial hardships.
Others owners, in return, accused Jones of being guilty of conduct detrimental to the league. There was talk of potential penalties that could include a fine, suspension or the loss of a Cowboys draft pick or picks. There were reports about the possibility of Jones being forced to sell the Cowboys, a franchise with an estimated value of more than $4 billion, but those reports were dismissed by people familiar with the league’s inner workings as unrealistic.
Jones subsequently indicated he would not sue, saying he’d been satisfied that other owners would have increased input into the process. The league said there had been no agreement with Jones for the threat of a lawsuit to be dropped in exchange for a final ratification vote by all owners.
Goodell’s extension would keep him in place through the league’s negotiations for its next collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union and its next set of television contracts. Owners locked out the players before the last labor deal was struck in 2011. In September, player leaders voted to retain DeMaurice Smith as executive director of the NFL Players Association while barring other candidates from vying for the job during this election cycle.
The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, also said: “We are pleased to have resolved this issue and we appreciate the strong support received from our partners. It was particularly gratifying to hear so many owners commit to being more engaged in League affairs and to express the desire to work more closely with the Commissioner and League staff on matters critical to the League. We know that we speak for all of you, as well as for the Commissioner, in saying that the NFL is strongest when our ownership is active and unified.”
The memo says that owners were informed by committee members “in recent days” of the contract’s details.
“Our Committee unanimously supports the contract and believes that it is fully consistent with ‘market’ compensation and the financial and other parameters outlined to the owners at our May 2017 meeting, as well as in the best interests of ownership,” the memo said. “We also have expressed in those conversations our strong and unanimous belief that we should proceed to sign the agreement now, consistent with the unanimous May resolution and to avoid further controversy surrounding this issue. We are pleased to report that there is a nearly unanimous consensus among the ownership in favor of signing the contract extension now.”