Jerry Jones vs. Roger Goodell: Conflict in the NFL

The league today is weighed down by politics, controversy, and in-house fighting — while the actual games seem left on the sidelines

In the NFL of 2017, the actual playing of football games — the action that fans want to see, and have paid good money to see, in many cases — seem only part of the story.

National anthem protests have been a hot topic this season, but more recently a power struggle has developed between two of the league’s most influential voices: Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Last week, Jones threatened to sue the NFL if it renews Goodell’s contract, which is set to expire in 2018, causing further turmoil in a sports league that is currently fighting to save its brand.

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On Sunday, ESPN reported that in contract negotiations, Goodell is asking for a $49.5 million annual salary (up from $30 million per year), the lifetime use of a private jet, and free health care for his family for the rest of their lives.

One of ESPN’s sources said he is requesting more money than some owners make — and since the NFL owners are the ones paying Goodell’s salary, this could provide extra momentum for Jones’ movement to oust Goodell. Plus, Goodell’s favorability is at an all-time low. The Remington Research Group conducted a survey recently in which it interviewed nearly 2,000 people; the results showed he had a 12 percent approval rating in late September.

There are a few reasons Jones is not happy with Goodell at the moment. Most importantly, Goodell gave Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott a six-game suspension amid domestic abuse allegations, though the running back was never formally charged with a crime. Elliott, who ran for over 1,600 yards as a rookie in 2016, is arguably the Cowboys’ top player, so losing him late in the season hurts the team’s playoff push.

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Jones has also been an outspoken opponent of NFL players who kneel instead of stand during the national anthem, and he told the Dallas Morning News in early October that if any of his players knelt for the anthem, those individuals would not play. Since other teams have continued to allow their players to kneel, this has caused tension between Jones and the league. And, according to ESPN, Jones is unhappy with the way Goodell has handled the situation thus far.

Plus, the Cowboys’ previous request to wear helmet decals honoring the five police officers who were shot and killed by a sniper in Dallas in July 2016 was denied by the league in August — a few weeks before the national anthem protests began.

The biggest issue Jones faces right now is that the owners association already agreed to extend Goodell’s contract back in May, and the contract itself is already 80-90 percent complete, according to The New York Times.

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The Times also reported Jones had received a cease and desist warning from the six owners on the NFL compensation committee over his threats to sue the league over Goodell’s contract negotiations. In an interview with CBS Sports Radio, Jones said he’s received no such warning.

“I’ve had discussions with the committee chairman, but received no ‘notices,'” said Jones. “I speak to a lot of owners, a lot of owners, and I know them to be really supportive of the idea of being able to, on their part … guide and give input to the committee, in particular the chairman, and I have well over half this league that is very interested, not only [in] being a part of what is negotiated, but having it come back to them for approval.”

Whether or not Jones can stop the deal, this is all another danger sign. The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most popular teams in the NFL. A recent report from MSN says the team drew over 90,000 fans per game last year; and the average ticket price on resale websites for their games was $364. And people still bought tickets.

This all shows Jones has more power than most other owners in the league to make these sort of criticisms — and can do more damage to the NFL’s brand than any of the other 31 owners. If he is unhappy with the league and with Goodell, then much of his base will also be angry.

This could not come at a worse time for the NFL, as its ratings are already down 15 percent from the start of the 2015 season (8 percent from 2015 to 2016 and 7.5 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to ESPN).

At this point, more conflict is likely to just accelerate the league’s already-in-progress plummet.