ARLINGTON, Texas — Jerry Jones has proven you can be one of the most powerful men in American sports and a bad franchise owner at the same time. Someone should actually award him a trophy for pulling that off.
Lord knows Jones could use a trophy. His Dallas Cowboys had just lost by 28 points at home to the Philadelphia Eagles — the runaway leader in the NFC East — when he stood outside the team’s locker room talking about the mess of a franchise he purchased way back when. “Sure, we have issues,” Jones said Sunday night, “but nothing like the issues we had when I came in 1989.”
Jones mentioned Dan Burke, the late Capital Cities executive who once told the Cowboys owner to never worry about the marriage of TV and the NFL. “No. 1,” Burke told him, “I could hire every producer in Hollywood and couldn’t come up with all the soap operas that happen on and off the field. That’s the NFL. It’s made for interest.” Jones then added, “It’s great to be a part of it. And I’m looking forward to hopefully doing it a lot more.”
Nobody has produced, directed and starred in more NFL soap operas than Jerry Jones, who capped off a hell of a week by proudly accepting his Hall of Fame ring in a halftime ceremony before Philadelphia ran his Cowboys out of the building in their worst loss in AT&T Stadium since it opened in 2009. Jones had been making all sorts of noise about shutting down NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s proposed contract extension before ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. reported Friday that Jones had met the Goodell’s suspension of Ezekiel Elliott for alleged domestic assault with a direct and vulgar threat.
“I’m going to come after you with everything I have,” Jones was quoted telling Goodell. “If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p—y compared to what I’m going to do.”
Hours later, a video from 2013 surfaced that showed Jones making a racially insensitive remark, joking about an engaged man being in the company of a “black girl.” According to The Blast, which released the video, the engaged man was white and asked Jones if the Cowboys owner would tape a message to the man’s fiancée. Jones apologized and said the man in the video is “not who I am.” This is the same Jones who said he would bench any Cowboys player who did not stand for the national anthem in protest of racial injustice because it would be “disrespecting the flag” — even if there’s an argument to be made that a protesting Cowboy would actually be honoring the flag, and all the freedoms it’s supposed to represent, by making a stand for millions of oppressed and disenfranchised Americans with no public voice.
In his weekly postgame scrum, I asked Jones if he addressed his players about the racial remark captured on video. “I’ve said what I’m going to say about that the other day in my statement,” he replied. I asked Jones about the reported threat he made against Goodell. “I won’t address that here tonight,” he said. “As far as those particular comments, I’ve had really thousands of words with Roger over the years, and so I don’t want to address anything that was reportedly said or recorded.”
But Jones made it clear in his halftime message to the fans, and again after Sunday’s 37-9 loss to the Eagles, that he plans on rattling plenty more cages before he’s done. “I meant what I said, in that I’ve strived in every way to make [the NFL] better, and that’s what I do,” Jones said. “And that’s what I’m going to be doing.”
The Cowboys owner spoke of how much fun he’s having outside the boundaries of Dallas’ 5-5 record, and how badly he wants “to be inspirational to our players, my players. And I want them to know that I’ll do everything I can to help the Dallas Cowboys and help the NFL, and they should benefit from that.”
Only the scoreboard says the Cowboys players haven’t benefited from Jones’ ownership. Ever since he ran Jimmy Johnson out of town in 1994 — then won his third and most recent Super Bowl title with Johnson’s players on Barry Switzer’s 1995 team — Jones has been dying to win a big one without his former Arkansas teammate’s fingerprints on it. But with the owning JJ, and not the coaching JJ, as their driving personnel force, the Cowboys have won three playoff games over the past 21 seasons. Three. And it looks like it’s going to take at least another 14 months to make that four in 22.
Jones has been long considered the NFL’s second commissioner, or shadow commissioner, for all the dealmaking and kingmaking he has done. Jones returned football to Los Angeles. Jones put football in Las Vegas. Jones built the Taj Mahal of football stadiums. Yet while none of that is in dispute, and while Dallas fans do enjoy the modern miracle that is AT&T Stadium, here’s a question to consider:
How many Cowboys fans do you think care that Jones pushed through those deals in L.A. and Vegas?
How about none.
Fans judge owners by how often they put a winning product on the field — nothing more and nothing less. Jones deserves credit for the three early titles, and for replacing the legendary Tom Landry with a better man for the necessary rebuilding job. But Johnson said his boss didn’t want to make the 1989 Herschel Walker trade to Minnesota that set up the dynasty. A quarter century later, Jones wanted to draft Johnny Manziel, who’s out of the league, over Zack Martin, who has been named to three Pro Bowls in three years.
Football has never been this football man’s area of expertise.
Jones can’t blame Goodell for his own wins and losses, though he certainly has a point when it comes to the commissioner’s contract talks. Few people get to make as many unforced errors as Goodell has made and then ask for nearly $50 million a pop and a lifetime of rich-guy perks. On the other hand, you can argue that Jones hasn’t been any better in his job than Goodell has been in his.
Funny, but Jones was a much bigger fan of Goodell when the commissioner was blitzing Kraft and the Patriots over Deflategate. In fact, Kraft’s son and team president, Jonathan, told 98.5 The Sports Hub that Jones had advised the Patriots to accept their penalties and “just take your medicine and just focus on winning football games.” New England won two Super Bowls after Jones’ little pep talk, while the Cowboys failed again to even reach a conference title game for the first time since 1995.
Jones declined comment on Kraft’s jab to the nose, other than to say the circumstances of the Deflategate and Elliott cases “are so different.” But Kraft’s father, Robert, is an interesting owner to drag into a discussion, since he has won five Super Bowls (two more than Jones), appeared in eight (five more than Jones) and won 16 division titles (six more than Jones). And Kraft is the one still waiting on a gold jacket.
The disparity in the owners’ records can be traced to their decisions on the best head coaches they ever hired. Kraft decided he could live long term with Bill Belichick’s flaws and quirks, and Jones decided he couldn’t live long term with Johnson’s. If Jones didn’t let his ego run amok, Johnson might’ve done for him what Belichick has done for Kraft. But Jones was overheard bragging that he could find 500 coaches who could do with Dallas’ talent what Johnson did, and wouldn’t you know it, Jerry hasn’t found one of those 500 over the past two decades.
Let’s face it: Public denials or no public denials, Jones was angry at Goodell for stifling his chance at winning it all and finally putting the ghost of Johnson to bed. The Dak Prescott and Elliott-led Cowboys got their first playoff taste last year, losing to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on one of the greatest postseason throws of all time. This was the Cowboys’ year to advance deep in the tournament, and now they’ll likely be watching that tournament from home.
On his uncivil war with Goodell and the league, Jones said, “I’m not really going to spend any time here tonight because it would take me an hour. And seriously, I’ve got a lot of things as we move over the next days ahead that will be apparent.” Jones did claim he hasn’t heard from fellow owners asking him to pipe down, but that if he did his response would be simple. “Ask them to pipe down,” he said.
Jones can keep this soap opera going as long as he wants because he owns the sport’s signature franchise. Some Dallas fans agreed with his decision to show more support for accused-batterers Elliott and Greg Hardy than he showed protesting players, and some didn’t. But all Dallas fans agree that they’re not happy with 5-5 and with the 21 years and counting of failing to reach the NFL’s final four.
Jerry Jones has found out the hard way — power doesn’t equal success in professional sports.