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To Dodge Jerry Jones, Other Owners Speed Up Roger Goodell’s Contract

People familiar with the contract negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they involve internal league matters, said the package was 80 percent to 90 percent completed, with only a handful of minor details yet to be finished.

As a nonvoting member of the compensation committee, Jones, though, continued to lobby the committee working on the pay package.

Last week, The New York Times reported that he told the six owners on the committee that he had hired the lawyer David Boies and was prepared to take legal action against them and the league if they did not change Goodell’s deal.

Jones has insisted that Goodell’s deal needs to be restructured to account for the poor way he has navigated the league through recent turmoil, and that more of his pay should be based on performance using bonuses. After Jones threatened to sue the members of the committee — which includes the owners of the Chiefs, the Falcons, the Giants, the Patriots, the Steelers and the Texans — he was removed as a nonvoting member.

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Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, on the field before a game last month against the Washington Redskins.

Credit
Mark Tenally/Associated Press

Jones was fully aware of, and in agreement with, the committee’s efforts to restructure the contract, according to people familiar with the committee’s work. On Aug. 9, Goodell traveled from his summer home in Maine to New York to meet with the compensation committee at Patroon, a restaurant a few blocks from the league’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.

The mood was comfortable. Two of the owners, Robert K. Kraft of the New England Patriots and Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons, joked about how, when they walked to the restaurant together, fans had stopped them to say they were surprised that they were together after their teams faced off in the Super Bowl in February.

In a private room, the owners discussed the structure of Goodell’s new deal and some of the finer points the commissioner wanted added. Jones was not in New York, but was listening on a speaker phone. “We got to a good place that night,” one person involved in the dinner said. “Jerry was on board with all of it.”

Two days later, everything 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.

On his radio show on Friday, Jones denied that his effort to block the contract extension had anything to do with Elliott, saying it was all about Goodell’s performance lately.

In October, when all 32 owners met in New York, Blank, the chairman of the committee, briefed them on the structure of the deal. There was little opposition. But several weeks ago, Jones held a conference call with more than a dozen owners not on the compensation committee to discuss Goodell’s extension.

When that failed to turn the tide against the extension, Jones spoke on a conference call last week with the compensation committee and threatened to take legal action. Stunned, the committee took the extraordinary step of removing Jones from the committee, and lawyers have since handled communication between the committee and Jones.

Jones’s threat now appears to have galvanized the committee and Goodell to conclude the last few items in the new contract. Goodell is currently paid around $30 million a year, including a set of rolling bonuses that in effect make most of his compensation guaranteed.

In his new package, Goodell would receive roughly the same amount, but only if certain performance targets were met.

After the owners voted unanimously in May to extend Goodell’s contract for five more years, the compensation committee created a new structure in which 88 percent of the commissioner’s compensation would be based on an array of metrics tied to the league’s financial performance. Many of those metrics would be overseen by other owners on other committees, broadening the number of people who would decide how much the commissioner would make.

Goodell, who has sought to defuse the controversy over players protesting racism by kneeling during the national anthem, has devoted more time in recent days to working out the final details so this controversy, too, might subside.

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