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Way We Hear It: Dallas Cowboys could face draft-pick punishment for Jerry Jones

November 17, 2017 GMT

The complex and tense relationship between Jerry Jones and other NFL heavyweights, including commissioner Roger Goodell and other teams’ owners, could end in Jones and the Dallas Cowboys being punished. Even with that pending threat, Jones has yet to display that he’s backing down from what has become a Texas showdown at the highest levels of the league.

Jones has been served with a letter from the NFL, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times first reported, that accused the Cowboys owner of ″conduct detrimental to the league’s best interests″ in his fight to prevent Goodell from receiving a contract extension. The letter was sent to attorney David Boies, whom Jones retained as a threat to sue the NFL if Goodell’s contract was approved by the league’s six-owner compensation committee.

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At the heart of this Jones-Goodell showdown, of course, is the league’s discipline for Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott. He was served a six-game suspension for a domestic violence incident, which Elliott and his representatives had fought in the courts prior to stepping down and accepting the punishment — although denying the claims or any guilt — on Wednesday.

Jones is believed to have called for a special owners meeting in the coming weeks to discuss Goodell’s contract — a stall tactic that was denied. Jones’ involvement as a seventh, ad hoc member of the compensation committee was revoked, and he was warned not to further his damaging acts against the league.

As one league source told us, this could lead to Jones being punished severely. Although the idea of the NFL forcing out Jones as the team’s owner feels extremely unlikely and rather drastic right now, a stiff punishment still could be in line. The most likely hit might come in the form of being stripped draft picks, as well as a possible monetary fine.

The NFL’s constitution and bylaws allow the league to punish high-ranking employees, including owners, for what they deem as detrimental actions toward the NFL. Jones has previously threatened to sue the league over various issues, including (as ESPN reported) the Cowboys being penalized $10 million in salary-cap space for player contract violations in 2012, as well as in 1995 over a licensing agreement.

Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989 and has led the team to substantial success, both on the field in its three Super Bowl titles in the early 1990s and in its financial gains as one of the world’s most profitable sports franchises. This summer, Jones was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game, becoming one of the most powerful owners in recent league history.

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But Jones’ power has been attacked and perhaps even stripped, to a degree, by Goodell and fellow owners in light of the Elliott tension, which has been at a rolling boil since Goodell informed Jones of the suspension in August, less than a week after he was inducted into Canton.

Of course, Goodell is hardly on the strongest footing himself. Other NFL owners might actually agree with Jones’ assertion that the commissioner is in fact overpaid, even if they might disagree with Jones’ tactics — perhaps even putting a Papa John’s pizza executive buddy up to publicly blaming the league for poor leadership — for pointing that out.

Goodell’s standing within the league has slowly eroded in some ways following backlash of the NFL’s handling of discipline cases, the game’s concussion concerns, the thorny Colin Kaepernick and anthem issue, league relocation and various other issues that have become public-relations albatrosses.

Still, there appears to be enough base support of Goodell — especially among the six-man compensation committee — and enough disdain for Jones’ self-serving actions related to his Elliott anger that a new contract for the commission appears to remain in the offing. Goodell’s current deal expires in March 2019, and it had been viewed as a fait accompli to get it extended this summer, prior to Elliott’s punishment being handed down and Jones’ ire being cranked up.

One league source believes Goodell misplayed his hand, not pressing the committee for an extension sooner, and the source wondered if Goodell’s reported asking price might not have been way out of whack. According to reports, Goodell asked for annual compensation of close to $50 million, which was as much as 20 percent more than some league executives believed he was worth, along with other lavish incentives (including use of a private jet for life, plus health care for his family for life).

Jones clearly had the smell of blood in his nostrils, as one of the league’s power brokers and one who involves himself in nearly every major decision, prior to Elliott being suspended. Because of the many tentacles Jones has embedded into various league issues — and with Jones’ resolve on taking down Goodell looking as strong as ever, even with the NFL’s cease-and-desist threats against him pending — the Cowboys owner does not appear to be backing down from showing how much power he wields and, as the most recent ESPN report indicates, who really runs the NFL.

In Jones’ mind, it appears to be him, not Goodell or anyone else.

Everyone is watching how this unfolds. The NFLPA, facing an impending labor showdown with the league following the expiration of the CBA in early 2021, believes there are cracks in the NFL’s power structure. Kaepernick’s attorneys, according to a Yahoo Sports report, are watching the proceedings and could shape their impending depositions for their grievance against the NFL around Jones’ possible relationship to the pizza executive. Other NFL owners and executives are taking note of the battles and trying to pick which side to support.

How far the 75-year-old Jones will take this matter, or what his next tactics might be, is anyone’s guess. But even though Elliott has dropped his suspension appeal and Jones has been warned not to push his obstruction efforts further, his track record as a deal maker, muckraker and power broker who is used to getting his way on things suggests that he’s digging in for an even longer fight.

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