An attorney for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said NFL owners are being misled about negotiations on a contract extension for commissioner Roger Goodell, according to a letter that was sent to the league's counsel and shared with team owners and executives.
A copy of the letter was obtained by ESPN.
In a 24-hour period, Jones and the league have accused each other of misleading allegations, and Jones has threatened to file a lawsuit if Goodell's contract extension is completed without final review or approval from the league's 32 teams.
On Saturday night, Jones was terminated as a non-voting, ad-hoc member of the league's compensation committee by committee chairman Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons. Blank cited Jones' expressed intent to sue the league and members of the committee during a Nov. 2 committee conference call as a reason for his action.
In a letter sent late Wednesday by Cowboys general counsel Jason Cohen to owners on the compensation committee and to Brad Karp, the league's outside counsel retained for this matter, Jones claimed he "has discovered a number of very concerning issues" while engaged as a committee member, including that "the Ownership [sic] and Jerry Jones now understand that they have been unquestionably misled" by Blank and that "critical facts" have been misrepresented regarding Goodell's contract.
The letter, which was copied to all NFL owners, alleges that Blank told owners, including Jones, on numerous occasions that the six-man committee's recommendation would be unanimous. Two ownership sources, however, said the committee is not currently unanimous on Goodell's contract, which is in its final stages. Jones' letter alleges Blank backed off his word that there would be "unanimity" on the committee before the extension was finalized. Cohen copied all owners on the letter despite a warning sent Saturday by Karp to Jones to refrain from communicating directly with the committee or any other owners as it pertains to Goodell's contract, a league source said.
An owner source, who claims to be "on the fence" regarding the dispute, provided a copy of the correspondence to ESPN. It was verified by two other sources. The tone of the letter paints a specific conflict between Jones and Blank under the larger context of negotiations and league protocol.
"Commissioner Goodell's contract extension is a substantial commitment by the Owners, as more than $200 million is at stake, on top of the $200 million already paid to him," the letter states. "This is in addition to the unique and largely unfettered power exercised by the Commissioner. Ownership can't have the Chairman let us down again."
Jones said in the letter that the compensation committee's consultants called Goodell's previous contract "the most one-sided deal they have ever seen." His current contract expires at the end of 2018, and the contract extension is proposed through 2024.
Jones also alleges in the letter that he has discovered a discretionary bonus plan that was not fully explained to ownership in a working contract proposal that includes less guaranteed compensation for Goodell. A source said that Blank has assured Goodell he would be able to make at least the same $40 million he has been paid on average under the 2012 deal. Jones believes other owners would object if they knew the discretionary bonuses that appear as incentives have been presented to Goodell as such a certainty even though Blank has told owners he would review it annually. The bonus plan, per the source, does not provide clear accountability for decline in TV ratings that could impact future broadcast-rights fees, a reduction in sponsorships and a further-damaged league image due to "sloppy" oversight in controversial matters, among other issues.
Blank was traveling Thursday and referred reaction to the league office. Jones was unavailable for comment.
Sources said Jones repeatedly complained that Goodell retained Blank as compensation committee chairman because of the "one-sided" contract previously negotiated. Goodell was elected commissioner in 2006, and his contract was extended in 2012 by Blank's previous committee, which included Robert Kraft (New England), Tom Benson (New Orleans), Pat Bowlen (Denver), Jerry Richardson (Carolina) and Stephen Ross (Miami). In the letter, Jones said he discovered Goodell's original contract "lacks market-standard employment terms and conditions."
The current compensation committee now includes Blank, Kraft, Bob McNair (Houston), Clark Hunt (Kansas City), John Mara (New York Giants) and Art Rooney II (Pittsburgh).
Jones also maintained in his response that a unanimous vote in May, which authorized the committee to complete Goodell's extension, does not negate a requirement under the league's constitution that requires all 32 teams to vote on the final contract.
The NFL's Karp replied to Cohen's letter Thursday, a league source said. Karp called Jones' response without merit, the source said, and stated it was inconsistent with a unanimous resolution that authorized the committee to finalize Goodell's extension.
Sources said Jones believes circumstances such as the player anthem controversy, further decline in TV ratings and sponsorship concerns have changed the league's dynamics and owners should be entitled to seek transparent contract details, as allowed by the May resolution. Jones has denied to other owners that he is motivated by the disciplinary action against Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott and has reminded them that he raised the issue of transparency on Goodell's contract at the annual owners meetings in March, well before Elliott's six-game suspension was handed down.
Karp also maintained Blank has been fully transparent with the other owners about the status of the negotiations with Goodell, the source said. The league's counsel refuted claims Jones made about the substance of Goodell's proposed extension, saying the Cowboys owner was either uninformed or deliberately misleading other owners, the source added.
Nevertheless, Jones is refusing to back down on the matter.
"The May resolution obviously did not, and could not, change that requirement, as only an amendment to the League's Constitution could change that requirement," the letter stated. "Moreover, the minutes from the May meeting remain unratified."
Jones portrayed the league as being in a state of "upheaval" under an "avalanche of issues that have beleaguered the NFL unlike any other time in recent memory. These changing conditions must be weighed relative to the timing of the Commissioner's contract extension."
Two sources believe there are "about 15 owners" who want to review the details of any final proposal to Goodell before it is completed. A league source countered with the belief that owners will now rally to support Blank over Jones on the issue.
Jones' counsel, in his letter, wrote the primary goal of the Cowboys' owner is not to seek litigation but full transparency from Blank on terms that have been "harbored" from owners. Jones' letter said "necessary" changes to Goodell's proposal should be implemented. Absent those changes, Jones' words imply he will take legal action.
"Accordingly, Jerry Jones will continue to exercise his right to protect himself and the other Owners from the Committee Chairman's undertaking of a substantial financial commitment on behalf of the NFL without the Owner's vote," Cohen wrote.