The high-stakes battle between Falcons owner Arthur Blank, head of the NFL’s compensation committee, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones appears headed for protracted legal battle.
Jones, who’s had one of his top players suspended by league commissioner Roger Goodell, has contended that Blank and the compensation committee have “misled” the owners over a possible contract extension for Goodell.
The two owners, who’s teams played each other Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, didn’t speak to each other before or after the game. Jones told reporters that home owner usually finds the visiting owner and they exchange pleasantries and that it’s “rare” that owners don’t speak.
There was no such meeting Sunday, and a local reporter was told before the game that Blank would have no comment. Blank was in the media room with about 40 family members and friends, but in the rush to interview Matt Ryan, who eclipsed 40,000 yards passing, and Adrian Clayborn, who had a six-sack performance, Blank was not interviewed.
When the report of the legal issue was made public, the Falcons referred all comment to league spokesman Joe Lockhart.
On Monday, Blank issued a statement about the matter to the Sports Business Journal, which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution received Tuesday.
"The Committee is continuing its work towards finalizing a contract extension with the Commissioner, consistent with the mandate provided in the unanimous May 2017 Resolution,” in a statement from Arthur M. Blank on behalf of the NFL Compensation Committee. “Regardless of what may have been reported, the Committee is working within the financial parameters outlined to the ownership at the May meeting. The negotiations are progressing and we will keep ownership apprised of the negotiations as they move forward. We do not intend to publicly comment on our discussions.”
Jones reportedly has received a cease-and-desist letter from league.
“As far as where we are with that, I think everyone has seen Mr. Blank’s, the chairman of the competition committee, statement,” Lockhart said Tuesday on a conference call. “I call your attention to the last sentence which says they don’t intend to publicly comment going forward on the discussions. I’m going to respect that here.”
The timetable is an issue with Jones because Goodell has roughly 18 months left on his current contract. Jones also has not been pleased with Goodell’s handling of the social- and racial-injustice protests by some NFL players during the national anthem.
“As I think the owners articulated when this first came up, we have a series of important milestones for the league whether it be the collective bargaining agreement coming up in 2020 and I believe, the network contract(s) in 2021 and 2022,” Lockhart said. “I think there was a sense that getting an extension beyond those dates was in the best interests of the league.”
Goodell, 58, was chosen to succeed Paul Tagliabue on Aug. 8, 2006, in a league meeting in Chicago. Goodell’s last extension was in 2012, according to the league.
Goodell introduced the NFL player-conduct policy and has overseen scandals in New Orleans (bountygate) and New England (spygate and deflategate) during his tenure. He was heavily involved in the negotiations for the 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA following a lockout. There was a referee lockout in 2012.
Also, the league’s handling of concussions have been overhauled during his tenure.
If Jones files a lawsuit against Blank and the compensation committee, Pro Football Talk suggested the league could take measures to strip the Cowboys from his ownership and deem his actions “conduct detrimental to the league.”
“I’m just not going to comment on that at this point,” Lockhart said.
Goodell’s extension was authorized in May at a league meeting. Jones voted in favor of it.
“That was done at the wisdom of the (compensation) committee and unanimously approved by all of the owners,” Lockhart said.
The league would not acknowledge the cease-and-desist letter, a common legal practice that can often proceed legal action.
“I’m not going to comment on any interactions between the committee and any specific owner,” Lockhart said.
The potential legal fight between two of the league’s high-profile owners could be damaging to the league’s image.
“That’s for everyone on this call to decide,” Lockhart said.
The ideal of mediation does not seem likely.
“I think that’s addressed pretty clearly in Mr. Blank’s statement,” Lockhart said.
The league would not say if it’s prepared to defend a lawsuit from one of its owners.
“I don’t have anything on that,” Lockhart said. “If there is any lawsuit, we’ll comment on it at the time.”