The NFL’s Compensation Committee reportedly has told Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to knock it off regarding his ongoing resistance to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract extension. Jones has said he won’t. So what happens next?
The NFL isn’t saying. During a Tuesday media briefing, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart made it clear that the league won’t be saying anything at all about the situation.
Lockhart did address one of the topics posed to him on the issue. Asked by Jim Trotter of ESPN.com to explain the reasons for finalizing Goodell’s extension when 18 months remain on the current deal, Lockhart said that finalizing an extension that carries Goodell beyond the expiring labor deal in 2020 and expiring network TV deals in 2021 and 2022 “was in the best interest” of the league. While that may indeed be accurate, the sparking of a very public fight between Jones and the members of the Compensation Committee can’t be in the best interests of the league.
The problem traces to the decision of the NFL’s owners to vote unanimously in May to grant full authority to the Compensation Committee to negotiate and to execute a contract with Goodell, within certain defined parameters. If the league had instead directed them to negotiate a proposed contract that would then be presented to the owners for approval, the owners would have cast votes with full information as to what the package entails, with no further discussion or sweetening of the pot.
Asked why the NFL opted for the former approach on Tuesday, Lockhart cited the collective “wisdom” of the owners. (He wasn’t being sarcastic. I think.)
Right or wrong, Jones apparently believes (accurately or not) that the Compensation Committee is trying to exceed its mandate. Or he simply has changed his mind about the parameters provided to the Compensation Committee in May.
Whatever the explanation, the league believes that the current status quo allows the Compensation Committee to proceed. The league nevertheless fears what may done to disrupt the status quo, via something other than a new vote of the owners. As reported earlier this week by Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, outside counsel Brad Carp recently advised the members of the Compensation Committee “not to communicate with Mr. Jones regarding the negotiations of commissioner Goodell’s employment contract or any other subject addressed by the resolution” because “[a]ny such communication, even if well intended, could be used by Mr. Jones’ attorneys against the league or against you individually and may compromise our defense against any such litigation.”
The best solution at this point could be for the owners to decide at the December meeting to amend the Compensation Committee’s authority to require approval of the final terms before they indeed become final. This seems like a fair and reasonable approach aimed at ensuring that at least 24 owners agree with the terms to which the Compensation Committee and the Commissioner have agreed.
Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that the current lack of an agreement means that the Commissioner has yet to accept whatever terms the Compensation Committee has offered to date. If he had, there would be a deal. The fact that there isn’t suggests that Jones may not be the only person driving a hard bargain here.