Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has threatened to sue the NFL and individual team owners to prevent commissioner Roger Goodell from getting a contract extension, league sources told The New York Times.
According to the report, Jones informed the six owners on the NFL’s compensation committee—which is charged with negotiating Goodell’s contract—that he would take legal action by Friday unless the committee canceled its plans for an extension. Jones has reportedly hired David Boies, a high-profile lawyer currently under pressure after a New Yorker report detailed how his firm tried to suppress negative stories about Harvey Weinstein.
Jones and Goodell have been at odds since Goodell levied a six-game suspension against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott in August after a league investigation found evidence that Elliott was violent toward Tiffany Thompson on multiple occasions in July 2016. The suspension, which Jones said was an “overcorrection” following the league’s past handling of domestic violence cases, has gone back and forth in courts around the country, and Elliott has yet to serve one game of it.
Jones interjected himself into the compensation committee as an unofficial, nonvoting member, and has served as the chief opposition toward a Goodell extension even while the commissioner was deciding Elliott’s discipline. But the committee revoked Jones’s involvement after he made his legal threats last week.
“If not for Jerry, this deal would be done,” a person familiar with the situation told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen in September.
Jones has acknowledged the perceived conflict of interest between his involvement and Elliott’s discipline, but said in September that his concerns are related to Goodell’s salary, saying that the commissioner is overcompensated. Goodell’s contract is set to expire after the 2018-19 season. He has made more than $200 million since becoming commissioner in 2006, and in 2015 he made $44 million.
While deeply unpopular among many NFL fans, Goodell has overseen record revenue growth. The league’s 2017 revenue was projected to hit $14 billion this year, and ousting Goodell during a historic financial windfall would be surprising for a league often perceived as having bottom-line tunnel vision.
But Jones may not share the belief that Goodell is responsible for the league’s profits. In an ESPN deep dive into a league owners’ meeting in mid-October—the same meeting where Texans owner Bob McNair made his “inmates” comment—Jones took a shot at the league office and said the owners, not league executives, had built the league into the business it is today.
Boies, who was involved in Supreme Court cases like Bush v. Gore and the case that legalized gay marriage, has made headlines recently for representing Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by dozens of women. According to a New Yorker report, Boies executed a contract between Weinstein and a private investigation firm that set out to “suppress allegations that [Weinstein] had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women” by hiring former spies to assume false identities and mislead Weinstein’s accusers and journalists.
Owners have sued the league before. Raiders owner Al Davis successfully sued the NFL in the 1980s as he sought to move his franchise from Oakland to Los Angeles, but Jones’s willingness to individually sue team owners in addition to the league raises the stakes.
While Jones has said he has stalled Goodell’s extension for financial reasons, the two have also clashed over the biggest the story of the season—player protests against racial inequality during the national anthem. Jones said Cowboys players who kneel during the national anthem would be benched, but Goodell has resisted any sort of leaguewide mandate. Goodell also chose not to invite Jones to a meeting between select owners and players to discuss the protests during the owners’ meetings in October, and Jones was described as having “palpable urgency” during a separate meeting later in the day discussing what owners should do about the protests, according to the ESPN report:
“It seemed to a few owners as if only Jones could see that an opportunity to regain control of the league was slipping away.”
Now, if he follows through on his threat to sue, the lawsuit could determine who runs America’s most popular sport. Jones, famous for his talking, may soon be taking action.