Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has impeded the progress of contract negotiations aimed at an extension for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, according to sources familiar with the talks.
"If not for Jerry," one person familiar with the contract negotiations said this weekend, "this deal would be done."
While some owners believe a deal will be agreed upon, others aren't quite as sure thanks to Jones, who has interjected himself into the process of the NFL's six-man compensation committee, becoming the unofficial seventh member.
Jones is now being singled out by some owners and league executives as the reason Goodell does not have the contract extension that many expected to be in place before this season kicked off, per sources. Goodell's current deal expires in 2019.
The increasingly edgy relationship between Jones and Goodell has sharpened to the point that Goodell's long-term future could be in question, league sources said.
Jones addressed the claims following Dallas' loss to the Denver Broncos.
"All of that is without any substance at all," Jones said of the charge that he has delayed negotiations. "The exercise of looking and extending our commissioner's contract is one that we keep really in tight. So there certainly are exaggerations there; that's not the way that works. I've always supported Roger, and let's just leave it at that. I wouldn't dare get into nuances and wouldn't deny anything that is written whether it is true or not."
Answers on Goodell's future could come soon. Next up is the compensation committee's conference call Wednesday, which is expected to produce a specific term proposal for Goodell, sources said. Jones will be included on the call, sources said.
Whether a firm proposal is presented to Goodell after the conference call remains a source of contention for the time being, sources said. While some owners believe a contract extension is imminent, another source close to the situation said, "there's no way that happens right now." The fact that there even is some level of dissension within NFL ownership circles illustrates what a touchy issue this has become.
Previously, Jones has denied he was a member of the NFL's compensation committee. But league sources say Goodell was informed that Jones, despite not being a member, would take part in the process within the same time frame as the commissioner was deciding the eventual six-game suspension of Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott for violation of the league's domestic violence policy that is currently hung up in a court battle.
"Well I can understand that, ironically, we've got the Zeke issue at the same time that we're looking to extend Roger's contract. I see that," Jones said, acknowledging the perception. "But I deal with conflicts of interest every day, as do does he [Goodell]."
The league's compensation committee consists of chairman Arthur Blank (Falcons), Clark Hunt (Chiefs), Robert Kraft (Patriots), John Mara (Giants), Bob McNair (Texans) and Art Rooney II (Steelers). While Jones is not a member, he said he considers himself an "ombudsman."
"I'm not on the committee, but I'm there as a representative of the [other 26] owners," Jones said of his role.
Jones is joined by McNair in calling for a dramatic restructuring of Goodell's contract, sources said.
One source familiar with the ongoing drama said Jones has argued persistently for months to the committee that other owners believe Goodell makes "way too much money" and demands a pay cut and a radical change in the formula that compensates the commissioner. Jones also believes several other employees in the league office are overcompensated.
Goodell's earnings of more than $200 million since he was elected commissioner in 2006 -- including a $44 million salary in 2015 -- is at the core of Jones' aggressive strategy in communicating with fellow owners.
"Jerry's not saying, 'Don't hire Roger.' He's saying, 'I hate this [proposed] deal; redo it,'" said one source.
There is also the question of whether Goodell will even accept the new terms of an extension, if offered, according to an owner who supports the commissioner. Goodell's next contract, if it gets done, is expected to be performance-based, and would include incentives that would enable him to earn close to what he has in the past, sources said.
One league source was adamant that while Goodell may not be entirely happy with a new contract proposal, he still has the support of several owners who believe he has a somewhat thankless job in trying to protect the league's image while stepping on the toes of some of its most prominent owners.
But not all owners give Goodell full credit for fueling the league's economic boon, citing the participation of the owners themselves and indicators that troubled times may be on the horizon with uncertain TV ratings, a looming labor battle and a perceived weakening of the league's image.
One source even countered, insisting, "This is about money and a guy [Goodell] making way too much money on a grossly stupid contract for the job."
The NFL declined comment.