With the support of many NFL owners, Commissioner Roger Goodell is prepared to escalate his public feud with Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys and long one of the most influential people in the league, by fining him millions of dollars for his efforts to derail negotiations to renew Goodell’s contract and for his outspoken defense of a star player who was suspended, according to five league officials with direct knowledge of the situation.
The punishment will be issued in the coming weeks by Goodell, who will declare that Jones’ actions were detrimental to the league, which rarely shows such acute signs of acrimony among owners and the commissioner’s office. Goodell has been reluctant to be seen as exacting retribution for the way Jones tried to sabotage his contract talks, but he was urged to bring the penalties by several owners who believed that Jones had crossed an unspoken boundary by threatening his colleagues.
In November, Jones hired high-profile lawyer David Boies and said he was prepared to sue the six owners on the league’s compensation committee, which had been working for months on extending Goodell’s contract. Jones also lobbied loudly for running back Ezekiel Elliott not to be penalized, and reportedly tried to influence league officials deciding his case. Elliott had been suspended by the league for six games before the season after the NFL investigated domestic-assault allegations.
Jones will be ordered to pay the legal fees that the committee incurred defending itself, as well as the legal expenses the NFL spent defending its decision to suspend Elliott.
A spokesman for the Cowboys said the team was unaware of the impending penalties and did not immediately have a comment. A spokesman for the NFL said the league had no comment.
The genesis of the issue dates back about a year. In the months before Elliott, the Cowboys’ star running back, was suspended in August, Jones said publicly that his player did not deserve to be penalized after a former girlfriend accused him of domestic violence in an incident that predated his entry into the NFL. Jones also tried to influence one of the league’s top investigators, according to ESPN.
Elliott was not arrested or charged by prosecutors, but the NFL used statements by a former girlfriend of Elliott’s, along with photos of injuries he was accused of inflicting upon her, to justify the suspension.
After Elliott was suspended, Jones continued to support him. Elliott took his case to federal court, where his appeals were ultimately denied.
At the same time, Jones, who was a nonvoting member of the compensation committee, tried to persuade many of the league’s owners that Goodell’s contract extension should be far less generous that the one that was being proposed.
Jones was aware as early as August that only about 12 percent of Goodell’s compensation was guaranteed, and the rest would be based on whether he and the league met a variety of financial targets. Jones, however, continued to argue that Goodell was being overpaid. Though some owners were sympathetic to his stance, many of them backed away from supporting him when he threatened to sue the members of the compensation committee.
The compensation committee includes some of the most powerful owners in the league, and close confidants of the commissioner. The members are the owners of the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans.
Soon after Elliott exhausted his appeals, Jones hired Boies, who has over the years represented the NFL. In early November, Jones told the six owners on the committee that he had hired Boies and was prepared to take them to court to stop them from finalizing Goodell’s deal.
That set off an embarrassing volley of letters between lawyers for the compensation committee and Jones, and turned the issue of Goodell’s contract extension into a public talking point just as the league was grappling with the fallout from player protests during the playing of the national anthem.
Jones ultimately backed down on his threat to sue, but the ill will remained. At a league meeting in Irving, Texas, in December, Jones was upbraided for his behavior by many owners, including some who rarely weigh in strongly on league issues.
At the same meeting, with the support of most owners, Goodell was given a five-year extension. Under its terms, he has the possibility of earning as much as $200 million.