FRISCO, Texas — Later Monday in Palm Beach, Florida, Jerry Jones will attempt to change Roger Goodell’s mind.
In effect, Jones will feel what a player facing the NFL commissioner’s judge-and-jury power feels.
At stake is more than $2 million, a pittance to the Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager, but his fight is about principle and precedent. It’s one of the reasons Jones fought against Goodell’s contract extension.
The NFL is seeking the reimbursement of legal fees in excess of $2 million incurred in Ezekiel Elliott’s fight of a six-game suspension as well as in the threat of a lawsuit to block Goodell’s contract extension.
Speaking at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Jones was limited in his comments on the hearing.
“A hearing before your commissioner is like a courtroom, and you separate the wheat from the chaff, and you get right into the facts as they are, and I welcome that,” Jones said. “Looking forward to my time with him regarding both the issues of how we were involved or not involved in the Ezekiel Elliott issue as well as the issue of what we did or didn’t do relative to his contract. … You get [the] right to completely address the facts, and I know he wants to know that, and I want him to know what the facts are.”
In 1997, Resolution FC-6 was added to the NFL’s constitution which gives the commissioner power to seek reimbursement of fees if a team “initiates, joins, has a direct, football-related financial interest in, or offers substance assistance to any lawsuit or other legal, regulatory or administrative proceeding against the league.”
Elliott and the NFL Players Association brought the suit against the NFL after Goodell announced a six-game suspension last August. Through legal decisions in three states, Elliott was able to play in the first eight games of the season before the NFL won and Elliott dropped the opportunity to appeal further.
The Cowboys filed a declaration of support for Elliott in the legal process. General counsel Jason Cohen attended the legal proceedings, but the team did not have any part in paying for Elliott’s legal costs.
That a team would support one of its players and potentially aid the fight against the NFL should not be surprising. The club has a lot at stake if a player misses one game or six games, which is what Cohen’s declaration said.
During Deflategate, the New England Patriots supported Tom Brady in a stronger way. They filed an amicus brief on Brady’s behalf and also had an affidavit signed by owner Robert Kraft, not the team’s general counsel.
The Patriots were not asked to reimburse the league for the legal fees stemming from the Deflategate fight. They were fined $1 million and had a first-round pick taken away, but that punishment was for on-field competitive reasons, not a legal battle.
When the resolution was passed in 1997, it came on the heels of Al Davis’ suits against the NFL as well as Jones’ countersuit against the league for $700 million in 1995. The league and Jones settled their suit in 1996, which changed how the NFL did business and played a large part in Jones’ induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In attempting to block Goodell’s extension, Jones hired noted attorney David Boies and threatened to sue, although he never did. Owners on the compensation committee were upset at Jones’ behavior during the negotiations in which he served as an “ombudsman” for the owners not on the committee.
At last year’s owners meetings, every team, including the Cowboys, voted in favor of extending Goodell’s contract, but Jones changed his mind. While many viewed that as Jones’ way of avenging Elliott’s case, he said it was more to do with league policies and procedures regarding player behavior, how the national anthem protests were handled and declining television ratings.
While Goodell could earn up to $200 million over the course of the five-year deal, Jones claimed some sort of victory with the process of how the league selects and pays a commissioner in the future. Goodell and Jones appeared at a news conference the day the deal was announced.
“Do I look like I take it personally? Jerry, do I look like I take it personally?” Goodell said last December, pointing to Jones. “No is the answer to that question. As I have said before, I think people disagree. People who have the ability to do that within the context of our structure is something that makes us stronger. My relationship with Jerry has been great. We don’t always agree. I’m not paid to agree, and he’s not paid to agree with me.”
Jones said there is no timetable as to when Goodell could make a decision after the hearing. If he loses, Jones could challenge the decision through the court system, which could add to the cost of the legal fees incurred by the league.
Sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano the seeking of legal fees did not come from Goodell, but from owners. Monday, however, will be another round of Goodell vs. Jones.
“Just by its very nature, it’s to give information and get information, and it has the discipline that you have of a courtroom setting with the accuracy of a courtroom setting,” Jones said about the hearing. “Again there’s no arm waving. Just get right to exactly what happened in both instances and we’ll both be better for it.”