Along with 16 other NFL owners, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was among the leaders of a conference call Thursday to see if there were anything they still could do to hijack commissioner Roger Goodell’s pending contract extension, per leagues sources involved with and on the call.
“You don’t get to have this many messes over the years like Roger has had and survive it,” said one owner on the call.
The NFL would need 24 owners to approve Goodell’s ouster, and owners are skeptical that this can get accomplished. But one person involved in this week’s conference call compared the NFL’s current situation with Goodell to Major League Baseball’s previous situation with Fay Vincent in September 1992, when baseball owners voted 18-9 to force him out, leaving Bud Selig to take over as the interim commissioner.
Whether this group of 17 owners can prevent Goodell’s extension, which many predicted would be done this summer, is somewhere between uncertain and unlikely, though not for lack of effort.
“Maybe Arthur (Blank, the head of the Compensation Committee) and that committee think they’re on track,” an owner said about Goodell’s proposed extension. “But they have a lot more resistance than they counted on — and maybe they don’t know how the resistance is growing as we speak.”
But there is an unrest among a certain group of owners that were on this week’s conference call that are unhappy with a wide-range of issues ranging from Goodell’s performance, to certain NFL employees, to the league’s Los Angeles situation, and to other issues that date back to the Ray Rice situation and beyond.
The unhappiness and discontentment with the league office is real.
“There is, and was, something that is an issue,” a league source who was not on the conference call and didn’t learn about it until Saturday night said: “I’d be very surprised about wanting to change Roger. I’d be shocked about that.”
Yet for all the prominent people who do support Goodell, a contract that was supposed to be done in September is not done as November approaches.
There is no doubt that Goodell and the league are at a critical juncture, and those around the league feel it. And this was before Texans owner Bob McNair was quoted in an ESPN The Magazine piece, saying “We can’t let the inmates run the prison”, causing Texans players to leave the facility on Friday but planning some sort of demonstration for Sunday in Seattle.
“We just don’t have enough problem solvers,” said another NFL owner. “We gotta get it right or we’re just going to let it burn. Last time I felt like this was before the 1993 CBA settlement. That was just depressing, and Paul Tagliabue and Gene (Upshaw) stepped up and saved it in a spectacular way. We don’t have that feeling right now.”
The owners’ most recent meeting in New York, where much was discussed but little was decided, as Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta reported in their ESPN The Magazine story, led owners to this past week’s conference call that detailed some of the issues they have with the league and Goodell.
“That was our recurring theme, that there’s no leadership,” said another executive familiar with Thursday’s conference call. “Everyone there (in the league office) is trying to win the latest news cycle, and there’s no long-term vision. It’s just, ‘How can we minimize the bad headlines, maximize the revenue, and move on to the next day?’ And there’s an increasing frustration to that approach.”
McNair himself expressed frustration with the league’s leadership when he sought to clarify his “inmates” comment in a new statement released Saturday.
“I was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years,” McNair said in an excerpt from his most recent statement.
McNair’s words puts a prominent name to previous stories in which anonymous sources said that there is a level of unhappiness with the league office under Goodell’s leadership, although he did not specifically name the commissioner in his statement.
Sources have previously said Jones has tried to stand in the way of any extension for Goodell. Jones has interjected himself into this process throughout the talks aimed at an extension for Goodell. Just last month, ESPN reported that Jones was impeding the progress of contract negotiations aimed at an extension for Goodell — and nothing has changed. “If not for Jerry,” one owner said last month in regards to the contract negotiations, “this deal would be done.”
Arthur Blank, the chairman of the compensation committee and the point man for negotiations on Goodell’s extension talks, said he invited Jones as an “ad hoc” committee adviser. Blank said there remains “details to complete” on the extension for Goodell’s term, but he continues to express optimism.
A source said Blank was not aware nor invited to participate on last week’s conference call, as was the case with at least three other owners contacted this weekend that did not know the conference call with other NFL owners was held Thursday.
Sources declined to identify the specific teams represented on the call, but pointed out that the number of 17 participants on Thursday was further proof of the growing unrest after the previous week’s meetings in New York.
“There was good communication that we were going to have this next discussion … it was an appointment among owners who have serious concerns, ” said an owner. “Just because league office isn’t involved or certain other owners, that doesn’t mean these things don’t happen.”
When asked if the NFL is at an edge of a cliff with its mounting troubles and an attempted overthrow of Goodell’s commissionership, the owner countered that it was a “great opportunity.”
“We’re not on the edge of destruction,” the owner said. “It’s an opportunity. It creates real energy and it creates a great opportunity to get our leadership right going forward. You watch. We will come out of this as a stronger league and our popularity will come back and increase.”
There was no firm appointment made for another call among the group, the owner added but leaving little doubt he believed the discussion will continue.