It was just three months ago that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio — a decision with which I strongly disagreed but completely accepted because of the ultimate respect I have for my peers, many of whom are also friends and confidants who make up the Hall of Fame selection committee.
If in fact the only certainties in life are death and taxes; that nobody will ever bat 1.000 is the next closest thing.
My issue with Jones is simple: it is ridiculously easy to rattle off a list as long as your arm of the things Jones has done to benefit himself — including more than a few that were in direct conflict with the best interests of the league as a whole — dating back to June of 1989, when he first purchased the Dallas Cowboys. But I can’t think of a single thing he’s ever done for the good of the game that may have been against, or in spite of, his own best interests.
The NFL is currently at perhaps the greatest point of turmoil in its long and illustrious history, with fires raging on multiple fronts, no clear consensus among its commissioner and 32 team owners on how to bring most of the blazes under control, and the very real possibility that any one of these fires or various combinations of them could eventually burn the game down.
It seems to me the tens of millions of us who truly love the game should be able to count on a true Hall of Famer to be ready to step up and contribute whatever effort is necessary and make whatever sacrifices are required to protect the best interests of the league.
Jones, however, has chosen to back up a gasoline tanker and throw as much fuel on the fires as he possibly can.
If you’ve followed my work over the past couple years, you know I am an unlikely member of the Roger Goodell fan club. Goodell’s handling of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Deflategate, Los Angeles relocation and, most recently, national anthem protest issues have borne all the precision and dexterity of a one-armed butcher with a butter knife, and in some cases the tone deafness of Tiny Tim.
The commissioner is in an epic slump.
But he also has presided over a period of financial gains and record-breaking popularity since becoming the NFL’s top executive that is unrivaled anywhere in the entertainment industry and, for that matter, almost anywhere in free enterprise.
Many of those riches and gains have come as a result of the 10-year collective bargaining agreement that arrived at in 2011 through negotiations over which Goodell presided, in which he absolutely crushed the NFL Players Association to the great benefit of the 32 teams' owners, including Jones.
So ask yourself this: With declining TV ratings, some portion of the league’s devoted fan base not just upset or disillusioned but irate over players taking social and political stands during the playing of the national anthem, the very fiber of the game under siege from the real possibility that, far more than dangerous, it may be becoming life threatening for reasonable young men to continue to participate and another collective bargaining dispute on the horizon that could make the last look like a pre school arm wrestling match, is now the time for Jones to challenge Goodell to a game of mine’s bigger than yours because he’s pissed one of his players got punished for screwing up and threatening to sue his fellow owners if they don’t give him his way?
As you might expect, there is true irony in all of this, because much of what Jones is using to now try to build his case to fire Goodell is, in fact, of his own making.
According to more sources than I can count, until roughly a year ago, Jones was among Goodell’s staunchest supporters. But it was about that time that the league office was continuing its investigation into charges against the Cowboys' star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jones’ efforts to strong arm the league into moving on were being ignored.
Jones is used to getting his way.
When Goodell determined the charges merited a six-game suspension for Elliott, it was game on and Jones began moving behind the scenes to get even with Goodell.
It is important to note here that I have absolutely no idea whether Elliott is guilty or innocent of domestic abuse, or whether the truth — as it is so often — might be somewhere in the middle. Two different municipalities found that there was not enough evidence to process Elliott through the justice system.
There is a significant amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest Elliott is guilty of something. I, for one, have never been a fan of convictions gained solely through circumstantial evidence. Unfortunately, for Elliott and Jones, none of that matters.
All that does count in this case is enact Article 46 of the CBA that was so skillfully delivered by Goodell on behalf of all 32 of his bosses, including Jones. Here are the two passages from Article 46 most relevant here:
“All disputes involving a fine or suspension imposed upon a player for conduct on the playing field (other than as described in Subsection (b) below) or involving action taken against a player by the Commissioner for conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football, will be processed exclusively as follows: the Commissioner will promptly send written notice of his action to the player, with a copy to the NFLPA. Within three (3) business days following such written notification, the player affected thereby, or the NFLPA with the player’s approval, may appeal in writing to the Commissioner.
“For appeals under Section 1(b) above, the parties shall, on an annual basis, jointly select two (2) or more designees to serve as hearing officers. The salary and reasonable expenses for the designees’ services shall be shared equally by the NFL and the NFLPA. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Commissioner may serve as hearing officer in any appeal under Section 1(a) of this Article at his discretion.”
Article 46 was negotiated to guarantee the league having complete control of the players’ behavior on and off the field, and because it is collectively bargained, there is almost no relief to be granted in court. While we all knew that when the CBA was signed, it was nonetheless fully litigated by Tom Brady and the NFLPA in the Deflategate case, and the courts found it to be unassailable.
Jones had no problem with it when Rice, Hardy, Peterson and Brady were being bound by it, but now he wants the commissioner fired because — regardless of whether or not Elliott is deserving of the suspension — he is the most important player on his team and Jones doesn’t want to lose him in a playoff drive?
Let’s go a bit deeper.
Clearly, Goodell screwed up with Rice, and possibly Peterson. That is why he is risking erring on the side of excess with Elliott — because the real victims here are anyone who has suffered from physical abuse, not the Cowboys' win-loss record.
As far as Deflategate goes, we all have an opinion, and I’m guessing we’re all just fine living with them because the Patriots' response was to suffer Goodell’s choices and strike back by winning a Super Bowl anyway.
And for what’s going on in Los Angeles, have we all forgotten in the end that it was Jones who skillfully brokered the deal among his fellow owners, and not as much to Goodell?
With the Anthem albatross, I don’t have a side. I believe everyone should stand for the national anthem as strongly as I believe in the sanctity of the First Amendment. Free speech can be a real bitch when the only free speech you respect is your own.
Goodell has also said he wants everyone to stand for the anthem, but he is trying to find a way to make that happen while also honoring the players’ concerns. Jones believes it should be his way or the highway.
Again, I’m not taking a side on this one, but what is important in this context is that we all understand there are a number of Jones’ fellow owners who side more with Goodell’s tact than with Jones’ approach.
I can’t give you the scorecard there, but I can tell you absolutely that there are team owners who believe it is Jones who is farther off base than Goodell on this issue.
As one of my two-year old granddaughters said to me just the other day, “Papa, what a mess!”
So with all of that, where do we go from here?
There can be no dispute that over the past decade-and-a-half or so, Jones has become one of the two or three most influential team owners in the game. As near as I can tell, Jones believes he is going to be able to get Goodell fired because, well, he’s Jerry Jones.
According to my sources, Jones does have a handful — perhaps half a dozen or so — other owners who are prepared to line up with him and help do his bidding.
There is a second group of owners — not a majority but perhaps the largest group — that also has various bones to pick with Goodell, but is nowhere near ready to replace him and is uncertain how to proceed.
And then there is the third, perhaps the most interesting group, and according to one source very close to one of the owners in this group, quite possibly the one that is growing the fastest. They are furious with Jones for choosing to air all of the NFL’s dirty laundry at a time when it can so ill afford it.
Of equal concern to this group is also the possibility that all of this is really just a ploy by Jones to install his own hand-picked lieutenant in the commissioner’s office, and through him or her, he can gain more control over the league than anyone has ever wielded before.
Wow, what a strange and sordid tale Jones, Goodell and company have woven.
For those of us who just love the game and are becoming more concerned by the day over when exactly the league’s now-lingering slump is going to end, I think we’d all feel a whole lot better if the silent-until-now other 31 team owners would step up soon and simply say enough is enough.