As discord between NFL ownership and the league office continues to spill out into the public, a potential power play from a group of owners has emerged as a salve to recent chaos over how to handle national anthem protests, declining television ratings and fan unrest: Go after the commissioner.
An ESPN report Sunday morning revealed that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stood out as “a leading voice among 17 NFL owners on a conference call Thursday that discussed the possibility of halting commissioner Roger Goodell's pending contract extension.” NFL declined to comment on the story.
Despite Jones’s push, indications are that Goodell’s contract is still progressing as CBS initially reported Sunday morning. Goodell’s contract expires at the end of the 2018 season.
ESPN had previously reported in September that a Goodell contract extension would have already been done had Jones not intervened. But at the time, Jones reiterated his support for the commissioner.
“All of that is without any substance at all,” Jones said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram back in September. “The exercise of looking and extending our commissioner’s contract is one that we keep really in tight. There are certainly exaggerations there. That’s not the way that works. I’ve always supported Roger and let’s just leave it at that. I wouldn’t get into the nuances and deny anything that was written, whether it was true or not.”
While Jones’s frustration could be rooted in countless issues with Goodell, consider a timeline of NFL events from his perspective over recent months: Goodell and Jones sparred over the Ezekiel Elliott suspension and more recently over the league’s response to players kneeling or gesturing during the national anthem. Jones said earlier this month that any player “disrespecting” the American flag would be “punished.”
Believed to be the most powerful owner in American sports, Jones is viewing his league at both a business and political crossroads. Sensing momentum given the NFL’s struggle to adapt to rapidly changing viewing habits, an aging fan base and a divided (and vocal) set of loyal fans over recent anthem demonstrations, this could be Jones’ best shot at altering the current power structure.
If a recent ESPN piece discussing the owners’ meeting about anthem protests revealed anything, it was that Jones didn’t appreciate any pushback from the league office, at one point “reminding the room that rather than league office vice presidents, it was he and fellow owners who had helped build the NFL's $15 billion-a-year business, and they would ultimately decide what to do.”
So it goes. In a league that was created and bolstered by magnanimous personalities, big money and an increasingly vocal and politically conscious group of players, high-profile clashes like this were inevitable. The question now becomes how powerful and convincing Jones could be as the league, its players and owners all search for an amicable solution.
The report provides a backdrop to what could be a historical Sunday in the NFL. Texans owner Bob McNair, who came under fire for a quote about “inmates running the prison,” in the aforementioned ESPN piece, has already met with his players and issued multiple apologies. McNair also clarified that he was talking about the league office, not the players. Tenured Texans players have been discussing publicly the extent of their protests for their 4:05 ET matchup against the Seahawks in Seattle.
One thing is for sure: If Jones is involved, the matter will continue to get attention and backing from at least some owners.