The NFL planted the seeds for what became the Commissioner’s pay poison ivy patch in May, voting unanimously to authorize the six-member Compensation Committee to enter into a new contract with Roger Goodell. As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones continues his crusade against what he perceives as a sweetheart deal, the best way to understand the fight is to go back to the moment the mandate was given.
So here’s the question that previously has gone unanswered: What authority did the full ownership delegate to the Compensation Committee in May? More specifically, did the resolution that authorized negotiation and finalization of the deal contain a range (most importantly a limit) regarding Goodell’s salary, bonuses, benefits, etc?
The answer: The committee received full and complete authority, with no pre-set ceiling.
“By 32-0 vote the ownership authorized the compensation committee to negotiate and enter into an agreement with the Commissioner to extend his contract,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told PFT by email on Friday. While it’s possible that some discussion occurred regarding the structure of the deal (for example, its duration), the Compensation Committee was charged with getting the deal done.
A league source with knowledge of the situation confirmed, and elaborated, on the situation. The resolution, per the source, has no specificity. The source also described it as “one of the most vague and generalized resolutions on the books,” with no commentary in the official minutes regarding the process that culminated in the vote.
There was “very limited discussion” of the authority of the Compensation Committee, the source said, with the only point of any real substance being that the Compensation Committee planned to push for terms that would make the maximum compensation discretionary.
The current problem for Jones is that he voted for the resolution, regardless of its breadth and ambiguity. Multiple sources have informed PFT that Jones actually spoke out in favor of the move before the unanimous vote.
On one hand, his enthusiasm for the procedure came before Ezekiel Elliott was suspended. On the other hand, Jones had flagged his concerns before the May meeting. As PFT reported in the aftermath of the annual meeting in March, Jones argued generally for limiting Commissioner compensation (among other things) in an owners-only session.
While this information moves the situation no closer to resolution, it crystallizes the basis for the ongoing fight. The Compensation Committee essentially received a blank check, and Jones has been resisting the manner in which they plan to fill it out.
This makes his agreement to the approach even more confusing. One source suggested that he believed an ad hoc seat on the Compensation Committee would allow him to ensure that the contract didn’t become too bloated. That hasn’t worked, and it’s obvious that the push against the pay package became more pronounced once Goodell suspended Elliott.
Given what transpired in May, the best approach would seem to be for Jones to persuade at least 23 other owners to retract or rescind the May resolution, and to provide the Compensation Committee with clear, obvious limits — or to require the final proposed contract to be approved by 24 or more of the group. The manner in which Jones has combated the issue, with suspected instigation of complaints from Papa John’s and threats of litigation, will as a practical matter make it harder for him to rally enough support.