Jerry Jones got a chance to air his grievances Wednesday, but Roger Goodell is staying on as NFL commissioner for years to come.
Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, wanted to pump the brakes on the contract extension in the wake of Goodell imposing a six-game suspension on star Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott because of alleged domestic violence. Jones, along with the other 31 owners, had signed off in May on the compensation committee working on a new deal for Goodell. The more recent efforts of Jones to slow the process were fruitless, seeing as the contract was signed a week before the meetings.
Goodell’s five-year extension is 90% performance based, money that figures to dwarf his annual base salary of $4 million. The deal could be worth as much as $200 million in total value, approximately the same amount Goodell has made since becoming commissioner in 2006.
“We accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish,” said Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, chairman of the compensation committee. “We went through the commissioner’s contract again. Most importantly we went through the process, a reminder to all the owners of all the communication that we’ve had.”
There were mixed messages on whether this will be the final contract for Goodell, 58, whose new deal will give him 18 years on the job — one more than predecessor Paul Tagliabue.
Earlier in the day, league spokesman Joe Lockhart said: “The commissioner has made clear that he views this as his last contract and will allow him to deal with some of the important issues that he knows are on the horizon — the CBA, our network partner contracts.”
Subsequently, Goodell said he has not decided whether he will seek an extension beyond this one.
“I haven’t made any determinations,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenges. I think our league is in a great position, but we obviously have challenges just like any other industry. We’re excited about addressing those as a league, and we’re doing that from a position of strength.”
However, Goodell later said: “I think there’s a limit to how many years you should serve in this. But that’s a determination that’s made obviously with the ownership, but also by yourself and your family.”
Lockhart said there are no post-retirement or consultant payments associated with the deal, and disputed reports that the commissioner would receive use of a free private plane for life. Lockhart said Goodell will pay for any use of a plane.
In other circumstances the extension of Goodell might have happened with little fanfare, but Jones made it an issue after the Elliott suspension and attracted the ire of other owners, including a letter from the compensation committee accusing him of conduct detrimental to the league.
These annual meetings, held on Jones’ home turf at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Colinas, gave him an opportunity to speak his mind to fellow owners behind closed doors. The league is intensely interested in presenting a united front, however, so it was Blank who spoke to reporters on behalf of membership.
“There was a general strong feeling in the room that we need to bond together, be together as a team both on the field and off the field as a group of owners in dealing with the issues and opportunities that the league has,” Blank said.
Perhaps anticipating the suggestion that the NFL ramrodded through the extension, Blank mentioned several times that owners were apprised of the contract situation at every meeting this year, and that the six members of the compensation committee divvied up the list of owners and kept each up to speed on negotiations in multiple one-on-one phone calls.
“We went to great lengths to make sure this process was transparent,” he said. “That’s unheard of in the 35 years going back to 1982.”
Goodell insisted there are no hard feelings about the push-back from Jones on the contract extension.
“Do I look like I take it personally?” he said, turning to the Cowboys owner, who followed him at the lectern after the meetings. “Jerry, do I look like I take it personally? No is the answer to that question. As I have said before, I think people disagree.”
This is not the end of the fight for Jones, who wants the league to delve into its constitution in an effort to give more power to owners and less to NFL executives and staff. In part, that would mean giving the ownership the right to pick members of the various committees. As it stands, the commissioner picks the committee chairs who then appoint the rest of the members.
“This is the best qualified group of owners I’ve ever been associated with in the NFL,” Jones said. “Many of them are invested big time, more so than in the past. … They are the most qualified to set the course for the future of this league.”
Jones said the resistance he got on his fight indicates to him that it was a valid cause, and something that should be addressed.
“Most of the things that I’ve had real pushback on, I must tell you that if you aren’t getting it you probably aren’t spending your time and effort in the right way,” he said.
“It’s kind of like running through a block rather than running around a block,” he said. “You know you’re going right if you’re running through a block. If you’re running around it, you’re not going to be in the play.”
While conceding that owners “were not necessarily connected totally on how this process should have been handled,” Blank praised Jones.
“Jerry, he loves the league, he loves the Cowboys,” he said. “He’s very passionate about issues that he cares deeply about, which is great. It’s important to have different voices in the room. … We’re all committed to being connected.”
Sports business expert Marc Ganis said extending Goodell makes it far more likely that there will be a new labor agreement without a work stoppage (the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season), that TV networks will extend their deals and feel comfortable doing so, and that sponsors will appreciate the continuity.
“You can’t bring in somebody from the outside world,” said Ganis, president of founder of SportsCorp, a Chicago-based sports consulting firm. “You can’t bring in a Fortune 100 CEO and think that they’re going to step into a commissioner’s role and think that they’re going to be anything other than an empty suit.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer