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Volume 21 No. 1
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Jones’ efforts to reshape NFL far from over

Roger Goodell and Jerry Jones speak during last week’s NFL owners meeting in Dallas.
AP IMAGES
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ crusade to halt Roger Goodell’s contract extension may have failed, but to the 75-year-old former wildcatter, that effort represented just a skirmish in a wider effort to, in his view, take back oversight and power from the league office.

It is a conflict still in its early stages, but one that will likely claim executive jobs at 345 Park Ave. and chip away at and limit the league’s misconduct investigative arm and social outreach efforts.

“We all know that we have had problematic aspects in our discipline and our investigation(s). We all know that those have been there,” Jones said last week during a news conference, seemingly called to present an image of peace between the owner and Goodell. After Goodell spoke, he and Jones quickly hugged, but the commissioner left before the owner could reach the lectern.

As much as the NFL wants to put its internal politics behind — Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney said he and others were tired of it — the divisions within the league stood out sharply last week. While Jones took credit for Goodell’s contract having 90 percent of its pay determined by incentives, hours earlier compensation committee chairman Arthur Blank bluntly replied “none,” when asked what role Jones had in affecting the 90 percent figure. Jones at one point this fall threatened to sue Blank and his peers on the committee.

Then NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters that the contract would almost surely be Goodell’s last, which the commissioner publicly declined to affirm.

“On the subject of this being my last contract, I haven’t made any determinations,” he told reporters. The new deal takes him through March 2024.

And Jones cast doubt on the NFL’s much publicized promise to invest $89 million for players to spend on social justice programs, viewed as a critical step in harmoniously getting players to stop kneeling during the national anthem. Lockhart has said the program did not need an owners vote, but Jones, a well-known opponent of injecting politics into the sport, said, “I haven’t been informed about that. We don’t have data on that. That hasn’t been presented to the league. I haven’t had a presentation on it.”

Even Rooney, seen as a big supporter of Goodell, said the pledged charitable program would need an owners vote in March at their next meeting, suggesting it is not as ironclad as the league and players have presented. Rooney said he supports funding the players’ causes.

Whatever the case on the cause funding, Jones is clearly girding for a new push. He talked about changing the NFL constitution. Without going into detail about what those changes might entail, he made it clear it is about defanging the power of the NFL office.

Meandering somewhat, he said, “I’m with a group of people in ownership — women and men — and that is who is the best qualified to make those changes moreso than a staff totally with the governance that we’ve had in the past, totally making those changes,” he said. “It needs to come from there. They know what’s best in San Francisco. They know what’s best for their team.”

It is an old argument from Jones, who famously and successfully battled the league in the 1990s over the right to sell local sponsorships that conflicted with league deals.

For now, Jones has few allies after being spurned last week in a final attempt to topple the commissioner’s new five-year extension. He was said by sources to have met the night before with a group of owners to plot strategy, but if he did, they did not succeed. Other sources said he found little support in the owners meeting room last week when he rose to make his case.

In classic Jones fashion, though, he said he took that as a badge of honor. “Most of the things that I’ve had real pushback on, I must tell you, if you aren’t getting it, you probably aren’t spending your time and effort in something worth the fight,” he said.

Now, chances are Jones will turn his attention to the highly paid executives under Goodell, with some of them privately agreeing they were sure to become targets and likely already are.

Asked about the chances of overhaul within 345 Park, Goodell replied, “The things that we are asked to do now are different things than we were asked to do in the past. The environment that we are all operating in is different. We always look to improve, that is a constant for us. We will make whatever changes we think are necessary to improve.”

Indeed, owners like Jones will insist.