An attorney for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says NFL owners are being misled about negotiations on a contract extension for commissioner Roger Goodell, according to a letter that was sent to the league’s counsel and shared with team owners and executives. The letter was obtained by ESPN.
In the past 24 hours, Jones and the league have accused each other of misleading allegations, and now Jones is on the brink of filing a lawsuit if Goodell’s contract extension is completed without final approval from the league’s 32 teams.
On Saturday night, Jones was terminated as a non-voting ad-hoc member of the league’s compensation committee by committee chairman Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons. Blank cited Jones’ expressed intent to sue the league and members of the committee during a committee meeting Nov. 2, as a reason for his action.
In a letter sent late Wednesday by Cowboys general counsel Jason Cohen to owners on the compensation committee and NFL counsel Brad Karp, Jones claimed he “has discovered a number of very concerning issues” while engaged as a committee member, including that “the Ownership (sp) and Jerry Jones now understand that they have been unquestionably misled” by Blank and that “critical facts” have been misrepresented regarding Goodell’s contract.
The letter, which was copied to all NFL owners, alleges that Blank told owners, including Jones, on numerous occasions, that the six-man committee’s recommendation would be unanimous. Two ownership sources, however, said the committee is not currently unanimous on Goodell’s contract, which is in its final stages. Jones’ letter alleges Blank backed off his word there would be “unanimity” on the committee before the extension would be finalized.
An owner source who claims to be “on the fence” regarding the dispute provided a copy of the correspondence to ESPN. It was verified by two other sources. The tone of the letter paints a specific conflict between Jones and Blank under the larger context of negotiations and league protocol.
“Commissioner Goodell’s contract extension is a substantial commitment by the Owners, as more than $200 million is at stake, on top of the $200 million already paid to him,” the letter states. “This is in addition to the unique and largely unfettered power exercised by the Commissioner. Ownership can’t have the Chairman let us down again.”
Jones alleges in the letter that he has discovered a discretionary bonus plan that was not disclosed, as well as a departure from a working contract proposal that included less guaranteed compensation for Goodell and was largely incentive-based. Jones says in the letter that the compensation committee’s consultants called Goodell’s previous contract “the most one-sided deal they have ever seen.”
Blank was traveling Thursday and referred reaction to the league office. Jones was unavailable for comment.
Sources said Jones repeatedly complained that Goodell, himself, appointed Blank as compensation committee chairman. Goodell was elected commissioner in 2006 and his contract was extended by Blank’s three-man committee, which included Bob McNair of the Houston Texans and Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers. In the letter, Jones said he discovered Goodell’s original contract “lacks market-standard employment terms and conditions.”
The current compensation committee was expanded to six members and now includes Blank, McNair, Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jones also maintained in his response that a unanimous vote in May, which authorized the committee to complete Goodell’s extension, does not negate a requirement under the league’s constitution that requires all 32 teams to vote on the final contract.
The NFL’s Karp replied to Cohen’s letter Thursday, a league source said. Karp called Jones’ response without merit, the source said, and stated it was inconsistent with a unanimous resolution that authorized the committee to finalize Goodell’s extension.
Karp also maintained Blank has been fully transparent with the other owners about the status of the negotiations with Goodell, the source said. The league’s counsel refuted claims Jones made about the substance of Goodell’s proposed extension, saying the Cowboys owner was either uninformed or deliberately misleading other owners, the source added.
Nevertheless, Jones is refusing to back down on the matter.
“The May resolution obviously did not, and could not, change that requirement, as only an amendment to the League’s Constitution could change that requirement,” the letter stated. “Moreover, the minutes from the May meeting remain unratified.”
Jones portrayed the league as being in a state of “upheaval” under an “avalanche of issues that have beleaguered the NFL unlike any other time in recent memory. These changing conditions must be weighed relative to the timing of the Commissioner’s contract extension.”
Two sources believe there are “about 15 owners” who want to review the details of any final proposal to Goodell before it is completed.
Jones’ counsel, in his letter, wrote the primary goal of the Cowboys’ owner is not to seek litigation, but full transparency from Blank on terms that have been “harbored” from owners. He wrote it is “necessary” changes to the proposal be implemented. Absent those changes, Jones’ words imply he will take legal action.
“Accordingly, Jerry Jones will continue to exercise his right to protect himself and the other Owners from the Committee Chairman’s undertaking of a substantial financial commitment on behalf of the NFL without the Owner’s vote,” Cohen wrote.