According to Sports Illustrated, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, has threatened to sue the National Football League (“NFL”) and other NFL franchise owners. Specifically, he has threatened to sue the owners of the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers, all members of the NFL’s compensation committee. Jones has made his lawsuit threat in light of the committee’s decision on November 2nd to extend NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract through to 2024. Jones was a non-voting member of the committee, which has full control over Goodell’s contract, and urged the committee members to reconsider Goodell’s payment and the lack of participation by all thirty-two NFL team owners. When the committee, unconvinced by Jones’ appeals, asserted it would continue with its plans to strike a deal with Goodell in the coming months, Jones hired David Boies as an attorney. Jones has since asserted, through Boies, his plan to sue the owners and the league if Goodell’s contract wasn’t restructured such that the commissioner had more financial incentives to bolster the league’s performance. Furthermore, Jones demanded that all NFL owners participate in the contract process. While it is yet unclear on what grounds Jones will sue, he may possibly contest the committee’s authority by citing the NFL’s contractual obligations to good faith and fair dealing with owners by not forbidding their participation in contract negotiations.
Jones is no stranger to voicing disagreement with the NFL and taking the league to court; he has previously sued the NFL for conspiring in an “illegal cartel,” for denying him a larger portion of the revenue earned from Cowboys’ merchandise sales. In fact, Jones has been adamantly opposed to Goodell’s policies in recent months, specifically concerning the suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot for the alleged assault of a former girlfriend, as well as Goodell’s treatment of the ongoing protest by players who refuse to stand for the national anthem. However, Jones will face a difficult legal battle given he may have forfeited his standing in court; all thirty-two NFL owners voted to authorize the committee to negotiate the contract extension this past May. Furthermore, the courts have generally deferred to the internal decisions and procedures of private associations. In any case, the league will continue with deal negotiations, ostensibly undaunted by any legal threats by Jones.
Jason Colin is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).