Ezekiel Elliott has finally given up his quixotic quest to challenge the iron fist of Roger Goodell. The NFL commissioner may not find it as easy to rid himself of Elliott’s boss.
Jerry Jones is a stubborn man. He’s also sly, crafty and ruthless. Unlike Goodell, he has never been anyone’s employee and isn’t about to start now.
Jones is used to giving orders not taking them, which is why Goodell upholding the six-game suspension of Jones’ most significant player was for the Cowboys' owner a bridge too far. It is not the only reason he is trying to block a proposed contract extension for Goodell, but it is the major one.
So now it's war. The battle lines are forged by a man some in the league view as Al Davis Lite, while others see him as a financial genius who has done more to make them all richer than Goodell ever thought of.
Understand this, there is nothing Lite about Jerry Jones.
He can be a charming rascal, but he’s always a rascal. At times, when it serves his interests, he can also be a rattlesnake. It is the latter that Goodell best fear if he hopes to continue as commissioner beyond his present contract, which expires in 18 months.
With TV ratings continuing to plummet, discipline rulings challenged right and left, the union threatening a work stoppage and the mishandling of the national anthem fiasco, it is probably not the best time to seek a raise or unlimited use of a corporate jet. Although Goodell’s spokesman denies he was asking for $50 million a year plus lifetime family health insurance and jet, the damage was done the minute those stories surfaced. Who was the source of them?
Don’t know, but why is Jerry Jones smiling?
He’s smiling because he’s stirring the pot and turning up the heat on the commissioner who turned up the heat on his Cowboys. Dallas is not only not the same team without Zeke; the Cowboys are not a playoff team without him, and Jones knows it. Patriots’ owner Bob Kraft could shrug off his problems with Goodell suspending Tom Brady for four games a year ago because Brady came back in time to win the Super Bowl. Jones may not be so lucky.
Elliott’s decision to withdraw his appeal this week was the equivalent of waving the white flag. He surrendered to the power of the commissioner. Will Jones do the same? Unlikely because he’s one of the 32 who pay his salary.
What Jones wants is what Davis loved. He wants revenge. If he gets it, it won’t come in a courtroom despite his threats to sue the league nor his fellow owners' attempts to seek to force a full ownership vote on an extension of Goodell’s contract six months after authorizing the compensation committee to close the deal itself.
That was a unanimous vote and will be difficult to overcome legally. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If Jones can ratchet up the pressure by making Goodell look like an ungrateful employee grown too big for his britches and too expensive in his tastes, he may yet bring him down.
Already a new story was leaked to CNBC that more than half the owners are opposed to extending Goodell’s contract at this time for varying reasons. Where was this opposition in May, before Elliott’s suspension? Non-existent.
To circumvent the coronation of Goodell, Jones needs 24 votes and a pursuasive argument. The way to get them is not to threaten to sue those other voters. It’s to convince them that the guy running their offices on Park Avenue thinks he’s one of them. A commissioner is many things, but, no matter how powerful he thinks he is, he’ll never be an owner.
During the drawn-out fight to name Pete Rozelle’s successor in 1989, Jones spoke to that very matter when he asked what difference it made who was elected because owners ran the league. Nearly 30 years later, he’s aching to remind the guy who may have just derailed his team’s playoff chances of just that.