Peter King of Sports Illustrated has a story today that sheds more light on the internal NFL struggle pitting Jerry Jones against Roger Goodell and the league’s Compensation Committee. It offers new details of both the nature and the intensity of the conflict, and the degree to which Jones has moved into full-on Al Davis-grade levels of antagonism towards his fellow owners. It’s a doozy of a story, and I urge you to plunge all the way in and read the entire thing.
The conflict comes down to Roger Goodell’s pay as commissioner, and the feelings of at least a couple owners that Goodell makes too much money overall and also makes too much guaranteed money. It was reported on November 9 by Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta that owners had proposed a contract for Goodell that was largely non-guaranteed and performance-based, and that Goodell was “furious” about it. Today’s report contradicts that one: Here, King has Goodell as the one who recommended the non-guaranteed structure, opting to “bet on” himself:
At the heart of the dispute between Jones and the league is guaranteed money. And he is right about the current contract Goodell has: The guaranteed compensation, with no performance aspect to it, seems excessive bordering on avaricious. A little history is in order.
Months ago, when the Compensation Committee was beginning its work in earnest to extend Goodell’s contract, he made an unexpected offer to the committee. Two sources told The MMQB that Goodell said he would give up the vast majority of guaranteed money in his next contract, because he knew some owners had become uncomfortable in guaranteeing virtually all of the compensation on Goodell’s pact.
“I’m willing to bet on myself,” Goodell said in that meeting.
Possibly Goodell’s “offer” was mere posturing, after his initial temper tantrum about the idea subsided—consider that Peter King has historically been hilariously friendly with the Ginger Hammer, and might be counted upon to launder Goodell’s version of events in just this way—but whatever the case, the issue can’t be boiled down just to the existence of performance incentives. According to King’s report, 88 percent of the pay offered in the Compensation Committee’s draft contract comes in the form of performance bonuses, but even that isn’t good enough for Jones. He wants the whole thing thrown back to the full membership of NFL owners, so that all owners can suggest changes and vote on the terms. This would be a significant departure from the normal course of NFL business, undertaken in order to satisfy the angst of, at most, a small group of owners, led by Jones. And Jones is not afraid to go nuclear in order to get his way:
According to a source with knowledge of the call, the Dallas Cowboys owner said he had “papers drawn up” in the event that the current proposed Goodell deal was finalized. That deal would extend Goodell’s contract through 2024, (if completed, it would make his commissioner’s tenure 18 years). Jones, it was clear from this call, wanted the committee to take the unprecedented step of sending the finalized deal back to the entire membership for possible adjustment or cancellation.
“Are you telling us you’re prepared to file litigation against us?” committee member John Mara of the Giants asked, according to the source. Jones, a former disciple of the late, contentious Raiders owner Al Davis, said he was, per the source.
Beyond just holding up Goodell’s big payday as retribution for Goodell’s handling of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, Jones is reportedly hung up on what he perceives as bonuses that function as de facto salary by being tied to performance triggers that are all but impossible to miss:
But because of the vague parameters of the incentives, I am told Jones believes that regardless of the performance of the league, Goodell will make close to the same money in the new contract as he did in the old one.
How Goodell’s compensation would be figured, according to one ownership source who has been briefed on the proposed deal, is highly complicated. “It will be very discretionary,” the ownership source said Saturday. As he described it, NFL committees with more than half the current owners on them will all play a part in recommending bonuses for Goodell that the Compensation Committee will be empowered to approve. The MMQB could not determine exactly how the bonus protocol would work for Goodell under the new contract, but this is how it was put by the ownership source: If the TV ratings in 2018 continue to tank, Goodell would get a lower bonus in the first year of his new deal. And if in 2021 the next labor negotiations go positively and no games are missed, the committee of owners who negotiate the collective bargaining agreement will recommend a relatively larger bonus for Goodell than if games are missed. Although Jones would not comment for this story, it’s believed he thinks Goodell’s annual compensation will be relatively close to his current pay almost regardless of league performance.
And if those bonuses are virtually guaranteed, we’re talking about a fucking gargantuan sum of money, even by the bloated standards of professional sports. According to a disputed ESPN report, Goodell’s last written counterproposal asked for basically the moon:
The committee will address Goodell’s salary and compensation package. The last written counterproposal from Goodell, which was around the first of August, was seeking about $50 million per year, as well as the lifetime use of a private jet and lifetime health insurance for his family, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
Goodell currently makes around $30 million a year.
One NFL owner told ESPN that there are “several owners in this league who don’t make $40 million a year.” The owner was referring to the salaries that owners take, which does not include the increase in valuations that each NFL franchise has undergone.
So, here’s roughly where we stand: NFL owners want the bulk of Goodell’s pay to come in the form of performance bonuses, a proposal the commissioner seems to have accepted; Jones, by far the most powerful NFL owner, also wants Goodell’s pay, whatever its specific form, to go down, and is willing to sue the league in order to prevent an undesired outcome; Goodell, meanwhile, wants his pay to go up by $20 million per year, and to include lifetime perks such as use of a private jet. You know, because a person making $50 million a year can’t afford his own fucking fleet of airplanes.
The Compensation Committee reportedly has a call scheduled for Monday to try to advance the discussions. If that call doesn’t sound exactly like the audio recording from Event Horizon, somebody on the Compensation Committee will deserve a Nobel Prize.