Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, has ended his threat to sue the NFL and the six owners on the league’s compensation committee who are negotiating a contract extension for Commissioner Roger Goodell, ending one of the league’s most contentious internal standoffs in recent years.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Arthur Blank, the Atlanta Falcons owner who is also the chairman of the compensation committee, Jones said that he had threatened to sue because he did not feel the committee understood his demand that all owners — not just those on the committee — have “a voice in approving the terms” of Goodell’s contract extension.
Now that the compensation committee “is receiving valuable feedback from a number of owners,” Jones said, he is “standing down from my threat of litigation against the committee.”
Jones’ threat to sue nearly three weeks ago precipitated a rancorous debate among the owners, who, despite their differences and sometimes sizable egos, manage to settle most of their disputes behind closed doors through a well-established system of committees and private meetings.
Not since the tenure of Al Davis, the former owner of the Oakland Raiders, has an owner so brazenly and publicly challenged his peers and attacked the league office. Jones, who has a well-earned reputation for acting on his own, has previously sued the league but in commercial disputes.
Jones’ attack on Goodell and his handling of league business, though, was far different. He has argued for months that Goodell’s contract extension, which would take effect in 2019, had to be reviewed in light of events that have befallen the league this fall, including a decline in television ratings and a furor over player protests during the national anthem.
Many owners, though, suspect that the true reason behind Jones’ attempts to derail the contract talks was his anger over Goodell’s decision in mid-August to suspend Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ star running back. Elliott received a six-game suspension over accusations of domestic violence by a former girlfriend.
But in his letter Tuesday, Jones again denied that Elliott’s suspension had been his motivation.
Jones’ attempts to stop the contract negotiations came months after he and every other owner had approved Goodell’s contract extension in May and empowered the compensation committee to work out the details. Jones joined the committee as a nonvoting member and raised no major objections until Elliott was suspended.
Jones told the owners on a conference call Nov. 2 that he had hired high-profile lawyer David Boies and had drawn up legal papers that would be served if the owners did not bend to his will over the contract.
While some owners supported Jones’ push to delay the extension to avoid drawing attention to the deal during the season, almost all owners favored keeping Goodell as commissioner. Almost no owners supported Jones’ threats to sue.
Although he has stepped back from embroiling the league in a costly and embarrassing legal fight, Jones is not done trying to influence the outcome of the contract extension. In his letter, he said he was trying to “prevent more damage to the league. He noted that television ratings had continued to decline, that demand for tickets had fallen and that there was more “discontent amongst our fans than ever before.”
He said the league office had an inflated staff and budget, sponsors believed the league had “credibility issues,” and the league had spent too much time fighting players in court.
In light of all this, he concluded in the letter, “the image of the commissioner’s office is not positive and cannot be rewarded at this time.”