The only topic hotter in the NFL than every struggling team’s backup quarterback is whoever might end up succeeding Roger Goodell as NFL commissioner. As the executive and public face of a league, Goodell’s role is as much to take the heat that each of the 32 billionaire franchise owners might otherwise face for league operations as it is to manage the NFL’s personnel rules. When the league needs someone to explain its policies around domestic violence, Goodell is the one on camera. When it becomes incumbent on someone to accept the ire of seemingly every man, woman, and child in the greater Boston area as a result of DeflateGate, the chants of “Raaah-Jaaaa!” are directed at Goodell. And when a star player like Ezekiel Elliott receives a suspension after allegations of domestic violence, Goodell is the one who enforces it.
But recently, meting out punishment to a player for has resulted in a virtual civil war within the the league. Jerry Jones, whose franchise, in large part, is currently built around Elliott, has been battling publicly battling Goodell in recent weeks—a feud that seems to have started as the commissioner chose, against Jones’ strong objections, to pursue legal avenues to maintain Elliott’s suspension.
Elliott was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend, but prosecutors ultimately declined to pursue the case against him. Jones—whose own moral judgment around domestic violence in the past has waffled between “intolerable” and “the Cowboys needed the player to help our team”—says Elliott is “a victim of an overcorrection.” Goodell, meanwhile, is sticking with the league’s domestic violence policy after the NFL did its own investigation. (We posted an explainer about the case in greater detail when the suspension was handed down in August.) Elliott was suspended for six games (prior to the new policy, which went into effect in 2014, a player who abused his partner could get away with a two-game suspension, or less), and he began serving that suspension on Sunday.
As hope for Elliott’s appeals in court has run out, Jones has gone on the offensive against Goodell—and, ultimately, against his fellow team owners—in a way not seen since legendary deceased Raiders founder Al Davis stirred up pounds of trouble for the league. As the New York Times reports:
[E]verything changed when Goodell suspended the Cowboys’ star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, for six games based on an accusation of domestic violence by his former girlfriend. In addition to railing against the decision and questioning the way the commissioner and his staff handled the investigation, Jones began to lobby the compensation committee and other owners to pause and alter Goodell’s new pay deal.
Goodell’s contract runs through the end of 2018. He currently makes $30 million a year, and—as we learned over the weekend—he wants a raise. Specifically, an unnamed owner told ESPN that Goodell seeks $49.5 million a year in his new contract, along with lifetime use of both a private jet and health care coverage for himself and his family. That is a very generous compensation package, but many within the league seem inclined to give it to him.
Jones seems to have recruited high-profile ally in his attempts to unseat Goodell. John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s pizza chain (Jones maintains an ownership stake in 120 Texas-based franchises), criticized the NFL’s handling of the national anthem protests, claiming that the league—under Goodell’s leadership—was bad for business. As NBC’s ProFootballTalk reports: