Reimer: Why Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones could form partnership to oust Roger Goodell as NFL commissioner

Alex Reimer
August 14, 2017 - 5:14 pm

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell used to enjoy the backing of perhaps his two most powerful billionaire overlords, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. But now, Goodell’s relationship with both kingmakers may be fraught, thanks to his inconsistent disciplinary tactics.

Though Kraft maintains a business partnership with Goodell –– the commissioner was a guest in the owner’s box for Thursday’s preseason opener –– he still has hard feelings over how Deflategate was handled. “I don’t hold grudges but I never forget,” he told the New York Post in June. “Sometimes people mess up when they’re doing their jobs, but in most organizations people make bad decisions. I’m about the present and the future.”

Jones made a mockery of the NFL’s domestic violence investigation into running back Ezekiel Elliott, saying last month there was “absolutely nothing” to it. Roughly two weeks later, the league slapped Elliott with a six-game suspension for allegedly attacking his ex-girlfriend on three occasions over a six-day span in July 2016. The Columbus Prosecutor’s Office declined to press charges against Elliott last September, citing “conflicting information” from witnesses. A woman named Ayrin Mason told law enforcement Thompson encouraged her to lie and say she saw Elliott attack her. Mason also gave police text messages that support her testimony.

The NFL’s memo about Elliott, however, doesn’t mention Mason’s signed affidavit. In a conference call with reporters, one of the NFL’s advisers on the case, former New Jersey attorney general Pete Harvey, said Elliott’s witnesses were uncooperative. Thompson, meanwhile, talked to the league at length. 

As Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz points out, Thompson was much more open with the NFL than Josh Brown’s ex-wife, whom he admitted to serially abusing in a series of harrowing journey entries. Molly Brown didn’t speak with the league during its investigation, and her ex-husband was only suspended one game for his repulsive actions. 

Brown was placed on the Commissioner Exempt List after his journal became public, continuing the NFL’s habit of retroactively disciplining domestic abusers. In September 2014, Ray Rice’s two-game suspension was increased to an indefinite ban when TMZ published videotape of him knocking out his wife in an elevator. A judge struck down the punishment two months later.

The NFL listed strong evidence in its case against Elliott, including photographs of Thompson’s bruises. The league continued its investigation for well over one year, asking prosecutors to share nonpublic documents and information. 

Suspending Elliott for the league-mandated six games implies his alleged actions were six times worse than Brown’s admitted abuse and three times worse than Rice’s recorded assault. At least six players who have been arrested for domestic violence since the policy was put into place have missed less than six games. 

On Friday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Jones was “furious” over the way Elliott’s case was handled. It was an enjoyable moment of schadenfreude, considering Jones lauded Goodell for his draconian Deflategate penalties. 

But with Jones now on the receiving end of Goodell’s heavy disciplinary hand, there’s been some speculation he will form a partnership with Kraft and try to oust the commissioner from his post. The MMQB’s Peter King addressed the potential scenario this weekend on Fox Sports Radio.

“I don’t think Jerry Jones is going to lead a charge to get rid of Roger Goodell. However, I believe that Jerry Jones and several owners are not happy with what they view as a very heavy-handed discipline that the league has done – not just with Ezekiel Elliott, but with other people,” King explained. “Look at it: Roger Goodell’s No. 1 mentor in this business, in his life other than his father, is Dan Rooney. Dan Rooney died this year. I would say the two most powerful other owners in this league, who were Roger Goodell supporters, right or wrong, were Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones. Robert Kraft is still not over the Brady suspension, Jonathan Kraft certainly is not over the Brady suspension, and I would be shocked if Jerry Jones, as Adam Schefter reported, is not furious.”

King dismisses the possibility of a Kraft-Jones coup, because he says rank-and-file NFL owners like it when Goodell goes after the league’s marquee franchises. That is, until Goodell sets his sights on their teams. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt learned this in March 2016, when Goodell stripped his organization of two draft picks –– including a third-round selection –– for tampering. The previous year, the Jets were only fined $100,000 when owner Woody Johnson publicly expressed his desire to pursue Darrelle Revis while the cornerback was with the Patriots.

Throughout Goodell’s embattled tenure as commissioner, he’s been able to point towards record-setting revenue and monstrous TV ratings. But that argument might be losing traction. NFL ratings dropped last season and revenue may not be able to reach Goodell’s stated goal of $25 billion by 2027 –– especially if the league’s next round of television deals are less lucrative than the current renditions. That’s a distinct possibility in the era of cord-cutting.

Also, Goodell’s credibility is forever stained when it comes to the league’s concussion crisis, given his comments at last year’s Super Bowl about the dangers of couch-sitting. As the link between head trauma and playing football grows clearer, it may serve the league well for a fresh face to deliver its message. The NFL prematurely ended its partnership with the National Institutes of Health for brain research in July, leaving $16 million on the table.

Despite all of this, Kraft continues to praise Goodell publicly. Last year, Kraft even said the commissioner is doing a “very good job.” But he’s indicated he feels a little differently on the inside. 

A partnership between Kraft and Jones would likely wield a lot of influence. Kraft sits on multiple league committees and Jones is often credited with orchestrating the Rams' return to Los Angeles and the Raiders' move to Las Vegas. He stands to profit from it, too, since his company holds ownership shares in the company selling suites for their new stadiums. 

Goodell’s contract isn’t up until 2019, so there’s a lot of time for this saga to play out. He’ll probably need it Kraft and Jones set their sights in his direction.

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