Expect more fighting between Roger Goodell and Jerry Jones after NFL’s latest ‘hip check’ of Cowboys owner

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

It’s just personal, not business.

That’s an accurate description of the still-decaying state of affairs between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, two league titans whose relationship has devolved into a string of red-faced telephone conversations, legal volleys and prickly media leaks. This is the NFL’s shadow struggle. And it is threatening to press on in perpetuity – Goodell trying to corral an owner with an unquenchable thirst to dictate the league’s future; Jones continually angling to reduce the power of an overpaid and underperforming caretaker.

It’s a tug-of-war that has flipped an organized crime/corporate adage on its ear.

It’s just business, not personal.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (middle) and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones are back at it again. (AP)

Where it concerns Goodell and Jones, that axiom can be reversed. While the problems between the two men might be rooted in business, their strained relationship is getting chest-deep in personal feelings. That’s the fallout of Monday’s New York Times report, stating that Goodell is planning to fine Jones “millions” for conduct detrimental to the league. In Jones’ world, that kind of money is a pin-prick. But the Times report and how it was initially framed is something else.

Those close to Jones believe something more nefarious is afoot, specifically, a campaign designed to beat back and scold the Cowboys owner while publicly reasserting Goodell’s power and reach.

One league source who has long been a Jones ally went as far to call the Times report a “hip check” from the NFL’s Park Avenue offices.

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To be fair, the league attempted to re-frame the report in a softer tone – with the NFL Network reporting that any “millions” coming out of Jones’ pockets would simply be the recouping of legal fees. More specifically, monies the NFL doled out during the negotiation of Goodell’s contract extension – which saw the Cowboys owner and league engage in a spate of trash talking between white-shoe law firms – and also some portion of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension dustup.

Regardless of the framing, the fact remains that the NFL is going to dock Jones some cash (Jones is planning to fight this, according to an NFL Network report) and the maneuver was leaked by someone. This is bound to add an extended chill to a relationship between Goodell and Jones that was already icy at best. And like anything else that goes on at the highest levels of this league, there is likely far more in play than we realize. And that is this: In a matter of a few short years, the league and the players’ union will engage in a labor negotiation that is shaping up to be one of the most contentious in the history of the NFL. One that has the NFLPA laying plans for a $600 million war chest in reserves to float its players during a potential work stoppage.

The goal of the union? To negotiate with a big stick that gets the attention of NFL owners. In short, the erasing of regular-season games due to a labor impasse.

Sources close to Jones have told Yahoo Sports that the owner is well aware of the union’s planned war chest and work-stoppage design. They’ve also said that some hardened beliefs are beginning to materialize in the mind of the Cowboys owner.

Number one? That Jones is going to have to be a key player in all future decisions, especially the 2020 labor negotiation. Not just for his legacy and what a labor deal could mean for the future of the league, but also for the health of the multibillion dollar empire he’ll be passing to his family.

Number two? That almost from the start of his tenure as NFL commissioner, Goodell has not only made mistakes in handling scandals, but he has fostered a deeply antagonistic relationship between the league and the NFL Players Association. To the point that the union is preparing for the 2020 labor negotiations to shape up like some sort of Armageddon moment.

Those parallel tracks of thought – Jones’ desire to be a cornerstone in future weighty decisions; and Goodell being a troublesome lightning rod in labor negotiations – have suggested an uneven landscape over the next two years. As the labor negotiations move closer, those close to Jones believe his sense of personal manifest destiny will lead him to push harder on fellow owners to be the lead in every major decision. They also believe Jones could be an owner who extends some kind of olive branch to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, as a means of “rebooting” the relationship between the league office and the union.

All of which brings those close to Jones back to Monday’s Times report. When a commissioner has been so publicly challenged by one of his most defiant and powerful owners, and that same owner has designs on taking an even more influential role in the league’s future, what is the NFL to do?

Draw a line. Push back. Respond. Or to borrow the phrase of one of Jones’ backers, apply a hip check.

In the big-picture view of Jones’ advocates, that’s what happened this week. The Cowboys owner was not only rebellious and critical, but he broke ranks and directly challenged the league’s power structure. So Goodell and the league office responded in kind. While a recouping of “millions” in legal fees could have been treated as a business decision and quietly levied, someone chose to take the low road.

Regardless of the source, the New York Times report was absorbed by Jones’ backers as something that was meant to embarrass. Something that was meant to strike back. Something that was meant to reassert Goodell’s clout in the league hierarchy.

In this shadow struggle between Roger Goodell and Jerry Jones, it was the latest business maneuver wading through some chest-deep personal feelings.

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