The last round of fighting over Roger Goodell’s contract happened Sunday, with a conspicuous report about the commissioner’s demands for $49.5 million, a private jet, and healthcare for life. The NFL denied that, but sometimes a denial just isn’t enough, at least not when dealing with Jerry Jones.
The NFL, more specifically, the compensation committee, sent the Cowboys owner a cease and desist letter this week, via his lawyer, threatening him with disciplinary action if he doesn’t back down from his crusade.
"Your client's antics, whatever their motivation, are damaging the league and reflect conduct detrimental to the league's best interests," the letter said.
Pay special attention to the words “conduct detrimental.” That’s the threat. The league could punish Jones if he keeps it up, either with a suspension, lost draft picks, or the nuclear option of making him forfeit his team.
So what exactly is Jones doing besides being a general nuisance and holding up the committee’s work of finalizing a new deal (a task that Jones approved of as recently as May)?
On top of threatening to sue the compensation committee, he’s declared war on everyone. His leak of Goodell’s contract demands over the weekend, demands that turned out to be old ones, resulted in the league’s threat.
Here’s the juiciest part of the NFL’s letter:
"Someone who is genuinely concerned 'that the owners know the truth about the negotiations' would not deliberately distribute such an outdated document, particularly when he has in his possession drafts that are current and accurately reflect the actual state of negotiations, or threaten to sue the league and its owners if he does not get his way.”
The notion of putting the commissioner on an incentive-based contract makes sense. Goodell did his part to “earn” lavish salaries like his $44 million payday in 2014 on the basis of leading the 2011 CBA deal, which turned the league into a can’t-lose money maker.
He’s made a lot of missteps since then, most notably his annual mishandling of conduct disciplinary actions turning into long-running court battles. Then there are the other existential threats to league, including CTE and the deleterious effects the game has on its players, oversaturation of the product from Thursday night and Sunday morning games created by the league’s insatiable hunger for cash, and the changing tastes of audiences and how they consume television.
The future of professional football rests on how the commissioner navigates those challenges.
Jones isn’t the only owner who wants to see Goodell’s contract changed to one that hinges on incentives, according to a report from ESPN’s Outside the Lines and others.
But for Jones it became a personal fight because of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, a sign that he’s not always going to get his way in telling the league where to go and what to do. His scorched-earth tactics — leaking old contract demands, getting Papa John’s to threaten the NFL, and coming after his fellow owners with a lawsuit threat — might end up having the reverse effect by alienating more owners.
The NFL’s letter means the next move is Jones’ to make. He can either go through with his threat to sue or throw more gas onto the fire with another leak. One thing he probably won’t do, however, is cease and desist.