NEW YORK -- NFL owners voted 31-1 on Tuesday to permit their compensation committee to open negotiations on a new contract with commissioner Roger Goodell, but not before two of the league's most powerful owners, the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and New England Patriots' Robert Kraft, engaged in a heated exchange, league and ownership sources told ESPN.
The sources said Kraft joined the overwhelming majority in strong support for the measure, with Jones the lone dissenter in the owners-only session, eventually telling Kraft, "Don't f--- with me."
Kraft replied, "Excuse me?"
"Don't mess with me," Jones said.
The measure then passed, sources said.
The NFL and a Cowboys spokesman declined comment. A Patriots spokesman didn't immediately provide a comment from the team.
This isn't the first time Jones has been outspoken and opposed to a new contract for Goodell, 63, and sources said his issue remains the same: the structure of Goodell's compensation. In 2017, Goodell signed a new five-year deal that was different from his previous ones. Jones led a charge that restructured Goodell's deal from mostly salaried to mostly bonuses based on performance. Several committees composed of owners determine whether they feel Goodell has met goals and targets.
Jones is concerned that the triggers for Goodell's proposed bonus pool in a new contract will be too vague and not connected to a strict set of financial goals and metrics without a more rigorous review, sources said.
"He believes in corporate good governance and wants accountability on the financial goals tied to Roger's bonus," said a league source familiar with Jones' thinking. "He is sensitive to awarding a big bonus to Roger before he performs and earns it."
The source added that, in the past, Jones has thought Goodell's financial targets were too "vague."
The source denied Jones' outburst was connected to any lingering animosity between Kraft and Jones.
The 31-1 vote signals that most owners want Goodell, who has been in the job since 2006, to continue as commissioner for the foreseeable future -- and that he wants to continue in that role. One owner told ESPN that the committee might consider a two- or three-year deal.
In the years since he received his latest contract, Goodell has helped usher in a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the union that added a 17th game, helped ensure that the NFL didn't miss any games during the COVID-19 pandemic and landed long-term broadcast deals with new and existing partners worth more than $100 billion. The NFL's popularity is unquestioned, despite myriad concerns about the long-term health of players, a lawsuit from St. Louis over the Rams' move to Los Angeles that ended up in a $790 million settlement and repeated scandals and investigations into the Washington Commanders and owner Dan Snyder.
The New York Times reported last year that Goodell's total compensation over a two-year period from 2020 to 2021 was nearly $128 million.
Goodell has said in the past that he doesn't want to be considered someone who stays in the job too long. ESPN reported in 2017 that Goodell told some owners that he would walk away after his next contract, CBA and rights negotiations.
"I'm here for you through that," Goodell told some owners. "After that, you guys should start having a conversation."