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Original Issue


As Roger Goodell tries to repair trust with NFL players, the commissioner is suddenly facing another movement of resistance—from some of his bosses

A MONTH AGO Arthur Blank, the Falcons' owner and chairman of the NFL's compensation committee, told me that he believed a contract extension for commissioner Roger Goodell, whose current deal expires in 2019, was basically a foregone conclusion. But a lot has happened in the NFL universe over the last month, and with discontent rising among owners over the effect protesting players are having on the league's bottom line with fans and advertisers, the dissatisfaction of strong owners like the Cowboys' Jerry Jones has found a surprising target: Roger Goodell.

According to a story ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen broke on Sunday, 17 owners participated in a conference call last Thursday to explore roadblocking a contract extension for the commissioner. The report came on the heels of another ESPN story that was published last week (by Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr.) that outlined the rancor that the national anthem issue has allegedly created between the league office and owners.

Though it is unlikely the discord would lead to the dissolution of the Goodell pact, progress on the commissioner's extension had seemingly stalled. Jones is a leader among the league's owners, and his opposition to the commissioner may be telling. In Wickersham and Van Natta's story, Jones described the commissioner's current contract as "the most one-sided contract ever." Goodell made about $66 million in salary and benefits in 2014 and 2015. Jones said he wanted Goodell's next salary to be more incentive-based.

Another ownership source told me on Sunday that Jones wouldn't be going to such great lengths if he didn't think he could affect at least the final number on the deal. This source also said, however, that he thought Goodell would react badly to taking a significant pay cut. The league's total revenue has risen from about $6 billion when Goodell took over the job in 2006 to between $14 billion and $15 billion this year. The source said Goodell thinks he's done the job the owners hired him to do: markedly increase revenues and be a discipline-minded steward of the game.

On the second point, however, it is believed that Jones feels Goodell is too iron-fisted when it comes to the issue of suspensions. And the owner is said to be particularly angry at Goodell for suspending the Cowboys' star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, for six games as a result of a domestic violence case. (The ruling was reversed but currently under appeal.) Jones also cannot fathom how Goodell won't put his foot down and force players to stand for the anthem. If players don't stand, Jones is said to think, Then so be it—they shouldn't play.

"Jerry [Jones] is on a mission," said this ownership source. "I've been in the league a long time, and this is as passionate and vocal as I've seen him on anything. He wants players to stand, and he obviously wants to do something on Roger's contract."

What Goodell is trying to do with the anthem is simple: He's attempting to build a consensus between the league and its players, which would address the latter's civil rights concerns and yet would not alienate fans who oppose the protests. But he knows pushing too hard or forcing players to stand could just result in an even bigger rift or even more demonstrations. It's a sticky problem.

Balancing the interests of both sides will be a challenge for him no matter what. I'll repeat something that one owner told me while in New York City for the meetings two weeks ago: Goodell has so few friends on the players' side—he has an icy relationship with union chief DeMaurice Smith—and he is beginning to feel the cold shoulder from more and more owners around the league that he doesn't have the chips to call in to make tough deals right now. And certainly not on something as important to an increasing group of players and owners as the anthem issue.

"Jerry Jones is on a mission," one ownership source says. "He obviously wants to do something on Roger Goodell's contract."



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