The NFL is demanding reimbursement in excess of $2 million from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for court costs related to star running back Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension and Jones’ threatened litigation over commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract, sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano.
The owners are citing a rule that has been on the books for more than two decades, that says if an owner participates in bringing litigation against other owners, he must reimburse them for the legal fees.
An earlier report by The New York Times characterized the reimbursement as a fine to be levied on Jones by Goodell.
The league will order Jones to pay all fees that the compensation committee incurred while legally defending itself from the longtime Cowboys owner’s threats to sue over the extension of Goodell’s contract. The Cowboys never followed through on that suit. Jones will also have to compensate the NFL for all its legal fees spent defending the Elliott suspension.
The reimbursement action was generated by fellow owners, not Goodell, and has been approved by the league’s finance committee, sources told Graziano.
Jones clashed with Goodell and the league on multiple issues in 2017. Jones was a vocal advocate of delaying a contract extension for Goodell and proposed on Dec. 1 to implement a six-month moratorium on finalizing the deal. Jones also threatened to sue the league if the compensation committee approved Goodell’s extension, and was publicly critical of Elliott’s six-game suspension.
The Cowboys did not offer a comment when contacted by ESPN.
The issues between Jones and Goodell went back to training camp. Jones asserted during training camp last summer that he did not believe Elliott would be suspended. When Goodell made his decision to suspend Elliott for six games, lead investigator Michelle Roberts was not counseled, nor was her opinion of the case taken into consideration. That played a big part in the legal back-and-forth between Elliott, the NFL Players Association and the NFL. The Cowboys offered “statements of support” through the legal system from their team attorney, Jason Cohen, who attended the hearings in Texas and New York.
Jones insisted his involvement in the Goodell negotiations was separate from the Elliott case and that he was an “ad hoc” member of the compensation committee to serve as an “ombudsman” of sorts for the owners not on the committee. However, last year when the league voted on whether to extend Goodell’s contract, the vote was 32-0 in favor. Jones’ apparent change of heart on the discussions came after Elliott’s suspension was announced.
Jones said his issues went beyond Elliott. He was concerned about lower television ratings, the effect of the protests before and during the national anthem, and the structure of Goodell’s proposed contract.
“They have a term in business called a MAC — Material Adverse Circumstances happen[ed] between the time that you shook hands and the time you did the deal,” Jones said after the owners’ Dec. 13 meetings in Irving, Texas. “It’s a very valid change of scenery. … Anybody who says we haven’t had any changes since last spring would be an exaggeration.”
Jones was granted an “owners only” session during those league meetings after Goodell’s extension was announced. While he could not block Goodell’s deal, he said he believes he was able to win something because of changes that will be made to the NFL’s way of doing business with the commissioner in the future.
Goodell and Jones were in the same room during a news conference that followed the meetings.
“Do I look like I take it personally? Jerry, do I look like I take it personally?” Goodell said, pointing to Jones. “No is the answer to that question. As I have said before, I think people disagree. People who have the ability to do that within the context of our structure is something that makes us stronger. My relationship with Jerry has been great. We don’t always agree. I’m not paid to agree, and he’s not paid to agree with me.”
Said Jones: “I hope Roger earns every dime. That means he’s doing a great job, and we’re doing good.”