War could be on the horizon for the NFL. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of the most powerful men in American sports, has set his sights on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league is on the verge of a major conflict, ESPN reported Friday morning.
Jones is reportedly livid over the suspension of star running back Ezekiel Elliot, which stems from a domestic abuse case. It could be the final blow in a storm that has been brewing for years, as a group of NFL owners have grown dissatisfied with Goodell's leadership.
Ratings have unquestionably declined amid a series of crises—concussions, bungled responses to protests, seemingly arbitrary discipline decisions—and yet the commissioner has only expanded his power.
An insider told ESPN's ace duo of Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham that after Jones learned of the Elliot suspension, he told Goodell, "I'm gonna come after you with everything I have." Referencing the NFL's absurd fight with the New England Patriots and its owner (Deflategate) Jones reportedly added, "If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."
When Wickersham and Van Natta Jr. drop a big NFL piece, fans the world over take notice. They're plugged in. So it's huge that they wrote, "Roger Goodell is in a battle few saw coming, with the league's membership teetering on an all-out, unprecedented civil war."
The last few years of Goodell's reign have been defined by turmoil. After years of trying to side-step or deflect the issue, the concussion crisis is clearly not going away—just this Thursday researchers said they were able to diagnose a living patient with CTE, the degenerative brain disease that has plagued a number of retired players.
After sparking league-wide protests that caught the attention of the president himself, Colin Kaepernick is suing the NFL, claiming they colluded to keep him out of the league. And at nearly every turn Goodell—now perceived as a villain among many fan bases—has bungled discipline matters (Deflategate and the Ray Rice domestic abuse incident, to name two cases) which is a bad PR look for the league.
But all that would likely be fine for owners if the NFL was growing. Ratings are down, however, and have been falling for a couple of years. The big bucks are made on TV deals, so declines in viewership are something NFL owners are sure to notice.
ESPN reported there doesn't seem to be enough support to push Goodell out of his job just yet—he's currently negotiating a new contract that'll likely net him at least $40 million per year. But Jones, who is seen by many as a powerful shadow commissioner of sorts, is game for a fight and reportedly has a couple owners on his side and a handful of others who aren't happy with Goodell, but perhaps aren't ready for a sweeping change.
It's unclear where things go from here, but it's a stark shift from recent memory, when the NFL was an unstoppable behemoth and everyone was fat and happy. War is hell.
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