The biggest NFL story of the day Sunday—and maybe of the past few years—started with a question: Did Dallas owner Jerry Jones leak the inflammatory story from ESPN about Roger Goddell's contractual demands?
We'll likely never know, but the question is similar to: Is there gravity?
I can't prove there's gravity, but I know it's there. I don't float off into space unless I'm on the purple drank.
What's certain is that some owners believe Jones leaked the story, in what is quickly becoming one of the most high-stakes, ugly and public fights the NFL has ever seen.
One owner, who asked not to be identified, sent me a stark text about Jones: "He's trying to start a civil war among ownership. I can't sit here and tell you it won't work."
ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chria Mortensen reported Sunday that Goodell is asking for around $49.5 million a year, use of a private plane for life and health insurance for life for his family. It's unclear whether Goodell is also demanding a unicorn that poops gold.
What's clear, based on sources in the league that I speak to, is that not all owners knew about Goodell's contractual requests. This is not unusual. The NFL's compensation committee, chaired by Falcons owner Arthur Blank, negotiates these deals and doesn't routinely apprise all owners.
"My experience was that anyone who wanted that information [compensation-package details] could ask Arthur and that he readily answered questions and provided the information requested," said one source. "That was the case when I asked for information.
"So is that information shared with all owners in a group forum? No. Can any owner...ask for and easily get the information? Yes. ... So if owners don't know, it's on them. They only need to ask."
Make no mistake, however: When some owners saw those Goodell requests, they were stunned.
Leaking news of Goodell's demands is like dropping a giant stink bomb into a closed room. Whoever did it (Smerry Smones?) knew exactly what the reaction would be from owners, fans and players.
Fans may see this only as a squabble between a rich guy and really rich guys. Yet it all matters, and if there is anyone fans should root for, it's Jones.
Jones is asking something of Goodell that most fans have in their lives: accountability.
Goodell has made approximately $200 million over his tenure and currently earns around $30 million a year, according to Schefter and Mortensen. During his time as commissioner, there've been numerous messes because of Goodell's mishandling, from Deflategate to Ray Rice to Bountygate. We don't need to get into the details. Fans know them.
The league has made an extraordinary amount of money under Goodell, which would be one of his defenses. But the owners haveRice not held Goodell accountable for any of his errors in any known significant way. In fact, his salary has only increased.
Jones wants to change that. He is pushing to make Goodell's contract more incentive-based. As far as I can tell, Jones is the only owner who has tried to hold Goodell accountable.
Jones is doing this for selfish reasons, (the Ezekiel Elliott case), but at least he's doing something to challenge Goodell's power. Fans and players have been asking for someone to hold Goodell accountable for years. It's finally happening.
"This is simply about making sure that all clubs have input into not only...his extension, but also, in future years, his decisions," Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas last week in reference to his threat to sue the league over the Goodell negotiations, as the New York Times first reported.
"And we all see how impactful a commissioner's decision can be in many areas," Jones continued. "We've given him a lot of power. I think we need the checks and balances of ownership having to be in a position to not just suggest, but approve of his decisions. So that's what this is about."
The courts haven't checked Goodell; Tom Brady eventually served his suspension, as will Elliott. Fans can't check him. Players can't. The only people who can are the owners, who are his bosses. One of them is finally taking Goodell on.
How will all of this work out? It remains likely that Goodell will get his extension and Jones will stand down.
Yet those odds diminish almost daily. The leak of Goodell's contractual demands shows someone (Smerry Smones?) is willing to make this really ugly.
It's possible Jones gains allies and this gets even nastier. We could see more owners versus owners.
We could see a civil war, and not the kind with Captain America.
Mike Freeman, Bleacher Report