It doesn’t matter what Jerry Jones says about it publicly. If you think his beef with Roger Goodell is about anything but Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension, you’re wrong.
Jones and the Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft. A former girlfriend accused Elliott of domestic violence in July 2016. He was never charged with a crime, but the NFL launched its own year-long investigation and determined that Elliott had been violent toward the woman.
The league isn’t bound by the same burden of proof as the criminal justice system. Goodell handed Elliott a six-game suspension, which is the baseline for a first offender under the league’s policy. And Jerry Jones wasn’t happy, according to Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham in an article that will appear in the Dec. 4 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
"I'm gonna come after you with everything I have," Jones said. "If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard [for Deflategate], Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."
Jones supported Goodell publicly when the commissioner absolutely botched the disciplinary process after former Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on video knocking his then-fiancée out in an elevator.
"He's acknowledged that he's mishandled this, and he said that he'll do better in the future,” Jones said on his weekly radio show at the time.
But Jones’ conflict with Goodell and the league office isn’t new, either. Jones, not surprisingly, has taken issue with what he sees as the NFL applying its power in ways that limit what individual teams want to do. When the NFL cracked down on teams being able to post game highlights on their websites and social media, Jones got heated.
"Why are you restricting this?" Jones asked. "We're best suited to handle our content."
Goodell has been the commissioner since 2006. It took 11 years for this thing to escalate to the point that Jones would openly wage war against a contract extension for the commissioner. Now it’s so contentious that Jones’ peers who serve on the NFL’s compensation committee actually sent him a cease-and-desist letter.
It’s because Jones sees the Elliott suspension as “an unforgivable breach” of his trust in Goodell.
He spoke to Goodell by phone in May about the investigation into Elliott. Van Natta and Wickersham spoke with a source who said Jones came away from that call believing that there would be no suspension.
'Roger told me there was nothing to worry about -- the evidence just isn't there,'" says a high-level source briefed on the call. "Jerry ... was damn sure that Zeke was free and clear."
For what it’s worth, league spokesman Joe Lockhart disputed that claim.
"Absolutely no assurances were given to Jerry by the commissioner that there would be no discipline, at any point in the process,” Lockhart said.
Regardless, Jones believed Elliott would not be disciplined by the league. He was wrong.
Jones later publicly called it “an overcorrection” by Goodell — a make-up call for all of the times the NFL blew it with discipline for violence against women. Privately, he wasn’t quite as polite. He called it “a complete betrayal.”
Elliott dropped his appeal and will serve his full six-game suspension. He’ll be eligible to return to the field in Week 16. But Jones isn’t likely to let this go. There’s no end in sight to Jones’ battle against Goodell.