NFL Accuses Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones of Damaging the League

The letter, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, says Mr. Jones’s “antics, whatever their motivation, are damaging the League.”

That letter was shared with all of the league’s 32 owners. It was in response to a Tuesday letter from Mr. Boies, who wrote that “Mr. Jones is in possession of a document that shows that certain statements made about those negotiations are not accurate.”

In a radio interview Tuesday, Mr. Jones described any chatter about his ouster “ridiculous.” A spokesman for the Cowboys didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The conflict marks a dramatic reversal for Mr. Jones, who in a matter of weeks has gone from being one of football’s most influential figures to one who is effectively ostracized from the league. It also raised the specter of a protracted civil war within the league, which has been largely unified since a series of legal battles with the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis a generation ago.

Throughout the season, Mr. Jones has sharply criticized Mr. Goodell’s discipline of Cowboys star running back

Ezekiel Elliott

over violations of the league’s personal conduct policy related to alleged domestic violence. Mr. Jones and the NFL Players Association have called the suspension unfair and criticized how the investigation was conducted.

Mr. Elliott has denied the allegations and after a protracted legal battle that kept him on the field served the first game of that six-game suspension last Sunday.

Mr. Jones pivoted against Mr. Goodell after Mr. Elliott’s suspension, according to executives from around the league. They said as recently as two days before Mr. Elliott’s suspension was announced in August, Mr. Jones expressed his continued support for extension of Mr. Goodell’s contract as commissioner.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones arrives for the NFL owners meeting in New York City in October.

Although the league’s owners voted unanimously in May to proceed with negotiations for a Goodell contract extension, Mr. Jones has in recent weeks stepped up efforts to halt the process. He hired one of the country’s most prominent litigators, Mr. Boies, and threatened to sue the league and its owners over the issue. That resulted in his banishment from the compensation committee, where he served as an ad hoc member.

Mr. Jones has said he isn’t out for vengeance, but rather has been concerned about the structure of the contract and the rush to get it done when there is still about a year and a half left on Mr. Goodell’s current deal.

Throughout Mr. Jones’s history as an owner, he has been successful in not only expanding the league’s business but getting his way. His decisions have driven the league’s television deals to unprecedented heights and his opinions have typically carried outsize weight among the owners.

It is unclear how many other owners support Jones. Two of the executives from around the league said Redskins owner

Dan Snyder

may be the only one who steadfastly supports Mr. Jones’s efforts, and that if there are others it is only a handful. A spokesman for Snyder declined to comment.

Also angering some owners was their view that Jones was behind remarks from Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter earlier this month that were critical of the NFL. If Jones encouraged Schnatter to attack the league that could qualify as detrimental conduct, the executives said.

Papa John’s is an NFL sponsor and on a recent earnings call Schnatter said the NFL has “hurt us” and expressed disappointment that the league had not resolved the player protests during the national anthem.

Jones has said he’s a joint owner of more than 100 Papa John’s stores and that Schattner’s points have “tremendous credibility.”

In a series of tweets yesterday, Papa John’s walked back those comments, apologizing to anyone who thought the comments were divisive. “We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change,” the company tweeted.

Jones’s tactics thus far have backfired and rallied support around finishing Goodell’s extension, said the league executives. The framework for that new deal has been agreed upon.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is negotiating with the league over a contract extension.

Goodell’s new contract, which would begin in 2019, would have a base salary under $5 million, with the vast majority of his compensation contingent on incentives in different categories, according to the tentative framework in place. More than half of the league’s owners would determine annually to what extent Goodell reached those benchmarks. Goodell earned more than $34 million in 2014, according to a tax filing, and has reportedly made more than $200 million since becoming commissioner in 2006.

“The Committee is continuing its work towards finalizing a contract extension with the Commissioner,” said Atlanta Falcons owner

Arthur Blank,

who is chair of the compensation committee, in a statement Monday. “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.”

Boies’s Nov. 14 letter says that “Mr. Jones believes it is important that the owners know the truth about the negotiations” and plans to send an Aug. 16 memo from a consultant hired by the compensation committee.

In his response, the league’s outside counsel, Brad Karp, wrote that Boies’s letter is “yet another effort by your client to disregard and interfere” with the owners’ unanimous resolution in May to give Goodell a contract extension. The letter says “there is no legitimate basis for Mr. Jones to circulate to the full ownership a three-month-old document” that “Mr. Jones personally knows to be an outdated, historical artifact of no relevance whatsoever in the context of these lengthy negotiations.”

“With due respect,” the letter says, “we urge Mr. Jones to drop his misguided litigation threats and media campaign to undermine the Committee’s mandate.”

This clash only adds fuel to a season that has in many ways already been defined by unprecedented tensions. In addition to continued ratings declines the league has grappled with its players continued protests during the national anthem, which became the source of a feud between the country’s most popular sport and the White House, when President

Donald Trump

encouraged fans to boycott games if the demonstrations continue. Trump and some fans have called the protests unpatriotic, while sponsors have expressed concerns too.

Trump called for NFL owners to fire or suspend players for their protests, which began a year ago to draw attention to social issues. Vice President

Mike Pence

later walked out of a game because of protesting players.

The topic became the focus of the league’s October owners’ meetings, where they ultimately decided not to implement a policy that would require players to stand. Jones, meanwhile, has said he would bench any Cowboys player who took a knee during the anthem.

Write to Andrew Beaton at andrew.beaton@wsj.com

NO COMMENTS