Several fellow owners of NFL teams have given Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones a cease-and-desist warning, threatening to punish him over his efforts to block a contract extension for Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to several people with knowledge of the situation.
The warning to Jones, which was issued by the six owners on the NFL compensation committee after the group held a conference call Monday, comes less than two weeks after he threatened to sue the league and the owners on the committee who have been working for months on a new contract for Goodell.
The league could take a range of steps, including fines, docking draft picks and even suspending Jones, according to several people with knowledge of the situation.
Jones’ maneuvers have escalated one of the worst fissures in decades in the normally clubby ownership group. Jones, who had been a nonvoting member of the committee, was immediately thrown out of the group after he threatened to sue the six other owners. Those owners and Jones have since communicated through lawyers.
“The committee is continuing its work towards finalizing a contract extension with the commissioner,” the compensation committee chairman, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, said in a statement Monday. “The negotiations are progressing and we will keep ownership apprised of the negotiations as they move forward. We do not intend to publicly comment on our discussions.”
Jones’ efforts to derail the five-year extension for the commissioner, which has been in the works for months and is nearly complete, has annoyed a growing number of owners, who are angry that Jones has tried to hold Goodell’s compensation hostage as a way to punish the commissioner for his decision to suspend Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Jones also has been accused of pushing the chief executive of Papa John’s, a pizza chain and a league sponsor, to discredit the commissioner and of leaking false information about the details of Goodell’s contract negotiations. Two weeks ago, John Schnatter, the Papa John’s chief executive, claimed that player protests during the national anthem had hurt his company’s sales.
Jones has denied that he is seeking revenge for Goodell’s decision to suspend Elliott for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Rather, Jones has said that he is trying to make Goodell’s contract talks more transparent in light of what he calls recent missteps by the league office, including how it has handled the protests by players.
Jones wants all owners to be able to sign off on the details of Goodell’s new contract, which would begin in 2019, even though the owners voted unanimously in May to allow the compensation committee to negotiate the specifics of the deal.
The six people on the committee — the owners of the Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans — have spoken regularly with other owners about the status of the negotiations, and Blank briefed all owners on the contract talks at leaguewide meeting in mid-October.
The fight between Jones and the committee has raised the tension in other ways. Owners who would normally shake hands before their teams face off on game day are now avoiding Jones.
Suspending an owner for conduct detrimental to the league is an extraordinary step, but it has happened. Major League Baseball forced Marge Schott and George Steinbrenner to give up control of their clubs for periods of time. More recently, the NBA took control of the Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling, who was heard making racist remarks on an audiotape.
The commissioner would have to impose the penalties, and is reluctant to do so without a groundswell of owners pushing him to take action, according to several people with knowledge of the situation. Punishing Jones might prompt lawsuits and the prospect of an even messier and more public fight.