I had a longtime football executive tell me something last week about this strange season that hit home with me. He said there’s so much newsy stuff happening around the league right now—the player protests during the anthem, the fight for the commissioner’s office, squabbling over what Roger Goodell’s salary should be, why TV ratings are tanking—that when Sunday afternoons come and the games come on, you say, Oh yeah … football!
My little role in this happened Sunday morning, when we published my story at The MMQB about Dallas owner Jerry Jones’ desire to overthrow the Goodell contract extension and perhaps Goodell himself. In the wake of that story, here are some pressing questions and answers about where the NFL stands on the state of Goodell, and my answers will be compiled from recent interviews and best guesses concerning an ever-evolving story:
Why is Jerry Jones trying to sabotage the Goodell contract extension?
I believe it’s because he thinks Goodell hasn’t performed like a great commissioner should. I believe it’s also because he thinks the fix is in on the proposed contract to the commissioner … that even though the contract offer to Goodell is 88 percent incentives, Goodell will still end up with compensation of at least $25 million a year even if the league has an awful year. And I believe Jones’ feeling is, if the fix isn’t in, let the owners see exactly how the annual compensation package will be structured, down to the precise formulas that will determine exactly what Goodell makes.
Does Jones want to be commissioner? Is that what this is about?
I’ve heard this question from several people this week, and my answer: It would stun me. Jones does not want to be commissioner. He already has his dream job, and he’s had it for 28 years. He wants to make the Cowboys great, and he wants to keep the Cowboys as the most valuable franchise in the United States. I just would be stunned if Jones would want to spend 15 minutes trying to make the Bengals a more valuable franchise.
So if not Jones as commissioner, who?
I don’t know. I believe he has one in mind, but I do not know who it is. I’ve heard Bill Polian’s name thrown around, and I know Polian is a Jones favorite because he’s tough, but I have no idea if he’s a legit name in Jones’ mind.
What’s the most likely outcome of the Goodell contract talks?
After the smoke clears, and after Jones tries his best to find partners to scuttle the deal, I believe the commissioner will re-sign through 2024. It’s interesting. Someone who is well plugged-in and who spoke to Jones in the past week told me Sunday that Jones believes he has more support from ownership than he had when he successfully prevented owners from giving money back to networks when they were in financial straits 24 years ago. He might have more support, but I don’t know who these owners are (outside of Dan Snyder and possibly Jim Irsay and Stan Kroenke). I don’t put anything past Jones, but I can’t see how he musters enough ownership support to kill this Goodell deal … unless, and I use this asterisk advisedly … there are further developments such as the ESPN report Sunday that said Goodell’s final negotiation request was an annual compensation package of $49.5 million plus use of a private plane for life. League spokesman Joe Lockhart quickly quashed that report, but Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen are eminently reliable reporters, and there’s no question they’re trusted by league owners and officials. So if a couple of reports like that get legs in the coming days, I could see some owners say, I’m not feeling very good about Goodell right now. which could give the Jones side some momentum.
Is the Compensation Committee unanimous in its support of the Goodell contract?
Good question. Jones believes if it isn’t, chairman Arthur Blank has misled the ownership, and the deal should be re-opened. The key member of the committee is Houston owner Bob McNair, who was outspoken in his criticism of the league office recently. Most people around the league think McNair’s criticism stems from Goodell’s refusal to back McNair’s explanation of “inmates running the prison,” when—McNair claims—he was referring to league office employees, not players in the league. Goodell reportedly would not speak out in support of McNair. But this weekend, I heard McNair supports Goodell and will vote to approve a new contract for him.
With Goodell’s contract valid though the end of the 2018 league year, what’s the hurry to re-up?
Owners think it would send a message to the advertising world and all communities that the owners are solidly behind Goodell. But with the continued turbulence the league is facing, you can’t help but wonder—and Jones clearly does—what the hurry is. What if the league gets this deal done next week, and then finds it has Goodell in office for the next six-plus years, and more crises roil the league? It’s not dumb to hold off doing this deal till mid-2018. It’s pragmatic.
Could Goodell sign some form of a deal today?
I am told no—contrary to several reports, there is not a contract on his desk that he can sign right now.
As I wrote Sunday: Normally I’d say this is over. It’s a done deal; Jones can’t win. I still think it’s unlikely Jones has success, but this is not a normal owner.
Jones has taken the unpopular side on several occasions in his ownership career. A quarter-century ago, he fought the NFL’s TV Committee as it proposed to give money back to the money-losing networks. Jones won, and the lucrative marriage between FOX and the NFL was born. In 1995, the NFL attempted to enforce its exclusive rights under the NFL Trust to prevent the Cowboys from pouring Pepsi in Texas Stadium instead of the league’s cola, Coca-Cola, among other sponsorship deals. Jones countersued, and he ended up settling with the NFL to maintain his deals with Pepsi and other non-NFL partners.
Do not underestimate Jones. He has won when it has appeared darkest before. Jones could find some kindred ownership souls in the coming days and weeks. But there is one difference between this fight and Jones’ previous ones: Despite how tarnished Goodell is, Jones doesn’t have many partners—at least now—in trying to overthrow the current way of doing business.