The NFL plans to seek payment of more than $2 million from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for his actions last year related to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract extension and the suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott, according to multiple people familiar with the league’s inner workings.
Jones previously was warned by the compensation committee that he was guilty of conduct detrimental to the league after his failed efforts to prevent the five-year contract extension for Goodell from being completed.
The league did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the Cowboys declined to comment through a spokesman. The NFL’s intention to penalize Jones millions of dollars was first reported by the New York Times.
Jones hired attorney David Boies and threatened to sue to prevent Goodell’s extension from being ratified and taking effect in early November. He later dropped that threat of litigation, and the extension, worth as much as roughly $40 million per year and running through 2024, was completed. Jones, through a letter sent by an attorney for the Cowboys, at one point accused Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, the chairman of the compensation committee, which negotiated Goodell’s extension, of misleading other owners.
In a November letter from an outside attorney for the league to Boies, the compensation committee informed Jones that he was guilty of conduct detrimental to the league.
“With due respect, we urge Mr. Jones to drop his misguided litigation threats and media campaign to undermine the Committee’s mandate,” read that letter, written by NFL attorney Brad S. Karp. “We urge Mr. Jones to honor the resolution that he and his fellow owners adopted and allow the Committee to continue its work, in compliance with the May 2017 Resolution and the League Constitution. And we urge Mr. Jones to support the Committee’s deliberations, not attempt to sabotage them.”
That letter noted Jones’s “antics” were “damaging the League and reflect conduct detrimental to the League’s best interests.”
Jones also was critical of the league’s six-game suspension this past season of Elliott under the personal conduct policy. The Cowboys running back was not charged with a crime, but the league determined after an investigation that Elliott, in its view, was guilty of domestic violence in a series of incidents involving his former girlfriend. Elliott and the NFL Players Association challenged the suspension in federal court and managed to delay its implementation for half of the season. They dropped their legal challenge after the NFL secured the right in court to implement the suspension.
Beginning in November, some owners urged the league to consider disciplinary action against Jones. Those measures could have included a fine, a suspension or the loss of a draft pick or picks. There was speculation last year about an attempt by the league to strip Jones of his franchise, valued at more than $4 billion. But people close to the situation dismissed that as being unrealistic, saying they believed that any sanction likely would be limited to a possible fine.
“Roger will be extended, and Jerry will be dealt with,” one person familiar with the owners’ sentiments said in November.
Jones said during the deliberations on Goodell’s contract extension that he was seeking to have more owners included in the process. At an owners’ meeting in December in Dallas, after Goodell’s extension was completed, Jones said he would continue to press for changes to the league’s constitution, which he called antiquated. He used the same word to describe the amount of power given to the commissioner by the owners.
“As with any organization of any type, whether it be business, social or otherwise, you have to evolve, and you have to make changes,” Jones said at that December owners’ meeting. “And frankly, that is what this has been about. Now, if you saw anything happening, did I cause them to be made? You can’t one person do it in the National Football League. It takes 32 owners to make the changes. And so anything that was done differently about this contract was done by all 32 owners.”
Blank said at that meeting that the episode had been a distraction for the league.
“I was bothered by anything — I think the owners were bothered by anything — that was a distraction from the league and from the league’s business and both the issues and the opportunities that the league has,” Blank said in December. “I think there was a general strong feeling in the room that we need to bond together, be together, be a team both on the field and off the field as a group of owners in dealing with the issues and the opportunities the league has now.”
Jones said all along that his opposition to Goodell’s contract extension was not related to Elliott’s suspension. But some owners believed otherwise, saying privately that they regarded Jones’s efforts regarding Goodell’s contract as, in effect, a temper tantrum over Elliott being suspended.
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