Roger Goodell has excelled at two things during his tenure as NFL commissioner: Holding together a contentious group of team owners and handling out player discipline and team punishments under his signature issue of “protecting the integrity of the league.” His six-game suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott may have touched off a protracted, expensive legal fight with one of the league’s most influential owners that could have a far-reaching impact on the future of the NFL.
According to The New York Times, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has threatened to sue the NFL and some of his fellow franchise owners regarding the recent negotiations over Goodell’s contract. He has retained the services of high-profile lawyer David Boies, who may be best known recently for his work defending Harvey Weinstein, in his quest to stop the commissioner’s planned extension.
What to expect: Jones has made his displeasure with Goodell clear since the league suspended Elliott for six games due to allegations of domestic violence. As Elliott and his lawyers have jostled with the league over the legality of the discipline, Jones has taken aim at the commissioner he once championed, calling his suspension an “overcorrection” after years of weak rulings in similar cases.
Jones has reportedly made it clear that if Goodell’s extension remains on track, he will file suit against the league and several owners. Jones has been a non-voting member of the league’s compensation committee. His ad hoc membership was revoked last week when he told the group about his intention to sue if they went forward with Goodell’s contract.
The current members league’s compensation committee are:
Robert Kraft, New England Patriots
Arthur Blank, Atlanta Falcons
Clark Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
John Mara and Steve Tisch, New York Giants
Bob McNair, Houston Texans
and Art Rooney II, Pittsburgh Steelers
This isn’t the first time he’s come out of the woodwork to rally against Goodell. Jones was campaigning against his extension as far back as two months ago, though primarily due to the money the league would owe its figurehead.
“If not for Jerry, this deal would be done,” a source told ESPN back in September.
Who is David Boies: Boies is a high-profile lawyer who has taken up issues like gay marriage and even argued the Bush v. Gore recount case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s defended a number of significant clients including IBM, CBS, George Steinbrenner, and even the NFL in the past. Most recently, he’s come under fire for defending Weinstein, the movie producer accused of a litany of sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.
Why it matters: Goodell’s current contract runs through 2018, and while he’s been the subject of controversy throughout his tenure, he was expected to ink a five-year extension with little debate. Instead, Jones is making sure he knows he poked a hornet’s nest by slapping Elliott, who did not face any criminal charges, with a six-game suspension. There’s also a chance Jones, who has been vocal in demanding his players stand for the national anthem, is also using this opportunity to snap back at a commissioner who has allowed players to kneel during the pregame tradition without facing discipline.
A high-profile franchise owner has sued the NFL before and won. Al Davis went to court to win the right to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982. He’d later sue the league twice more over facilities and local market rights, but lost in each case. In fact, Jones himself has sued the league in the past — a $750 million counter-strike against the league’s marketing arm after being sued by the league for negotiating deals with non-approved vendors at Texas Stadium.
Jones’ suit would be different in that it could also rope in some of the league’s most high-profile team owners. If Jones’ threat is for real, they’ll have to get much more proactive to defend themselves from his latest move.