Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has threatened to sue the National Football League if a contract extension for commissioner Roger Goodell is approved by the league’s compensation committee, sources told Outside the Lines.
A team owner and a team executive told Outside the Lines that Jones has hired David Boies, the famed New York lawyer who represented Vice President Al Gore in the deadlocked 2000 presidential election — and who led the NFL’s court case during a dispute over the 2011 collective bargaining agreement negotiations. More recently, Boies defended Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein against sexual assault allegations.
The New York Times first reported the development on Wednesday.
The sources told Outside the Lines that Jones has been exploring the lawsuit option through Boies, if Goodell’s contract is extended after the 2018 season as is being considered. Boies also represents DraftKings, the daily fantasy company in which Jones was an early investor.
Jones has not identified the grounds of such a lawsuit, but one source said Jones is exploring whether a requirement that two-thirds of owners must approve a commissioner’s contract could be increased to three-fourths of owners. Another source said that Boies also might be asked by Jones to produce a report showing the negative economic impact that Goodell’s major decisions, including player discipline, have had on clubs.
A lawyer who has close ties to the NFL praised Boies’ skill as a lawyer to OTL but said that his hiring was likely a “scare tactic” because there doesn’t appear to be an obvious legal challenge to Goodell’s contract negotiations, a process that Jones voted in support of earlier in the year. Jones “probably knows he doesn’t have a strong claim,” the lawyer said.
Neither Jones nor Boies could be immediately reached for comment. NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart declined comment.
The Times reported that Jones, in a conference call last week with the six owners on the compensation committee, told them that legal papers were drawn up and would be served Friday if the committee did not scrap its plans to extend Goodell’s contract. The Times also reported that after Jones spoke to the committee, the owners revoked Jones’ status as an ad hoc member of the compensation committee and then spoke to the other 25 owners who are not on the committee to notify them of what Jones had said.
The six members of the committee, led by Falcons owner Arthur Blank, asked Jones to leave the discussions after they learned he had hired Boies, sources told Outside the Lines.
Sources told Outside the Lines that Jones is one of “four or five owners” who believe Goodell should not continue as commissioner. Another half-dozen owners were called “fence-sitters” by one source — the exact group that Jones wants Boies to target.
“If he amasses 12 or 15 people, how does Roger survive something like that?” an executive asked. “I don’t know how he’d be able to continue if that many owners express a lack of confidence in him.”
A person who spoke recently with Goodell said the commissioner is “furious” about Jones’ and other owners’ insistence that his next contract’s compensation should be more performance-based, including incentives that would allow him to be paid at roughly the same level of his current deal. “He feels as if the owners have made a lot of money and he should be compensated accordingly,” the source said. “The incentives thing really angers him.”
Goodell has earned a total of more than $200 million since he was elected commissioner in August 2006, including $44 million in 2014 and $34 million in 2015. In May, at the league’s spring meetings in Chicago, Jones joined his fellow owners in authorizing the compensation committee to work on extending Goodell’s contract. But at the owners’ meetings in New York last month, Jones told his fellow owners that Goodell’s proposed next contract “is the most one-sided deal ever.”
Through this season, Jones has expressed growing dissatisfaction with Goodell’s job performance and has said in recent weeks that the league needs to hire a new commissioner, sources said. The reasons include Goodell’s handling of the player protests staged during the national anthem; the league’s pending six-game suspension of Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott for violation of the league’s domestic violence policy; and the league’s handling of the relocation of two teams to Los Angeles, which Jones helped engineer. Many owners are also angry with Goodell because they believe that he has given Jones too much power.
“Most owners would admit that Roger has done a terrible job handling the anthem controversy and a terrible job explaining the [TV] ratings declines, a terrible job on any number of other issues,” a long-time team executive said.
Several sources told Outside the Lines that owners believe the NFL league office suffers from “dysfunction,” and at least two owners have said they wouldn’t replace Goodell because they don’t know who they’d replace him with.
A silent majority of owners believe Goodell’s performance has been poor but still support him because they prefer to have Goodell lead the owners’ side in labor negotiations with the players’ union. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021.
“Roger is seen as having done a great job in the labor negotiations last time — that fact alone saves him with some owners,” an executive said.
Jones is not a member of the NFL’s six-member compensation committee. Jones has called himself the “ombudsman” of the committee and has become a de facto seventh unofficial member who attended a recent conference call of the committee.
If Jones decided to follow through with his threat, it would be the second time he has sued the NFL. In the mid-1990s, Jones filed a $750 million antitrust lawsuit against the NFL over its insistence that teams do not enter into separate sponsorship agreements; Jones and the league later settled that claim.
Sources said, though, that Jones has lost potential support because he has his own candidate to replace Goodell. Sources said they did not know the identity of the candidate.
“Then Jerry will be completely in control of the league,” one source said. “It’s turning off some owners.”
Another executive said he believes that Jones’ insistence to inject himself into the process has increased Goodell’s resolve to sign a long-term deal.
“Well, $45 million a year is a lot to just walk away from,” the executive said.
Boies has come under criticism this week for helping Weinstein use private investigators in an attempt to block a New York Times story about him while at the same time Boies was representing the Times.
In April 2011, Boies represented the NFL in a St. Paul, Minnesota, courtroom to present the NFL’s argument against the players’ request for an injunction to stop the league’s lockout of its players.