Our own Dave Halprin just looked at the question of whether Jerry Jones belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame. He was intrigued by an article from Todd Archer arguing that the owner, general manager, and never-reticent public face of the Dallas Cowboys was actually more deserving than former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who was just selected for induction. The key part of both their arguments for Jones' inclusion among the greats is that he was far more important to the league as a whole than DeBartolo. Now, further confirmation of that comes from a new ESPN story by Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. detailing how Jones was probably the most important voice in the room when the NFL finally broke the logjam over getting a team back into the lucrative Los Angeles market.
It is a revealing piece on many levels, but it makes clear the level of influence Jones wields among the other owners as well as how his vision continues to help drive the success of the NFL as a whole. There are many valid criticisms of Jones as a general manager as well as his often convoluted way of expressing himself. But as an owner, he is able to see the strategic picture for both his own team and the entire league in a way that no one else really can.
As fans of the Cowboys, we are well aware of what Jones does, but the machinations of the league as a whole are probably less familiar to most of us. The article peels back some of the veil concealing the sausage-making of running the money-printing enterprise that is the NFL.
One thing that emerges is that Roger Goodell was seriously wounded as commissioner by the bungled handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. It absorbed his attention when he could have been managing the attempt to decide who among the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, and St. Louis Rams' would relocate to Los Angeles as well as undermining confidence in his judgment and skill. There was also an emerging split between two factions in the league characterized in the article as the old guard (including Cowboys nemesis John Mara of the New York Giants as well as Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots) and the new-money owners. Jones is part of the latter faction, despite having been an NFL owner longer than some of the old guard. It probably is because he purchased the Cowboys when they were a floundering, money-losing franchise and largely by his own devices built them into the most valuable team in the league with the stadium that is now the benchmark for the new facility in Inglewood to try and surpass.
That money-making expertise was very important in what happened in the final decision, because this was all about money. It represents the best place for the NFL to grow itself in an American market that is approaching saturation. It is estimated to have instantly doubled the worth of the Rams, which had the lowest valuation in the league prior to the move to Los Angeles. One of the key moments came when Michael Bidwell, president of the Arizona Cardinals and one of the old guard, tried to argue for the option to move the Chargers and Raiders to Carson, stating that the decision should be about what was "best for the league" and not about increasing income. Jones was quick to burn that down.
Jones cut him off: "When you guys moved the team from St. Louis to Phoenix -- it wasn't about the money?"
As Bidwill tried to answer, Jones moved in for the kill: "You did it for the money."
Jerry may have a propensity to spread the bullcrap pretty thick when it suits him, but maybe that is why he is so perceptive about when to cut through it. He recognized that there was only one reason to alienate existing fan bases by uprooting one or more teams: The bottom line.
It was probably an ability that was badly needed with the owners split about which option they should take. And it was not an easy task.
One NFL owner called the meeting a "s--- show." A "nightmare," another said. Yet another described it as "the most contentious and polarizing" in decades.
With Goodell largely relegating himself to the role of an observer, the league needed someone to step up and fill the leadership void. The brash Dallas owner was more than willing to step in - as only he could.
Before the meeting ended, Jones, as would be his habit, took control. He delivered a rollicking, profanity-laced eight-minute endorsement of Kroenke's monumental vision, saying in his Arkansas drawl that whichever owner returned to Los Angeles, he needed to have "big balls."
It was awkward and hilarious. Everyone, including Kroenke, tried not to laugh. But it was also a welcomed sentiment for the new-money owners such as Dan Snyder of the Redskins and Jeffrey Lurie of the Eagles, who backed Inglewood. "If you want to do it right," Jones continued, "you have to step up."
The article makes it clear that Jerry Jones was crucial to the NFL working out a deal which could not make everyone happy, but that would make the league and all the owners richer. No matter how fans feel about the huge profits 31 owners (and the people with real ownership stock in the Green Bay Packers) make, we would not have the game we obsess over year round if it was not a money-making proposition. Without the staggering income stream, players would not be getting eight and nine figure contracts.
Archer's article went back to how Jerry Jones dug his heels in when the networks were trying to lowball the league shortly after he bought the Cowboys. He led the holdout to get a better offer, which resulted in his position on the league's television committee. He has been a major player in increasing the revenues from television, which have reached an incredible $4.95 billion a year.
Above all, as much as he may relish his role as the GM of the Cowboy, he has never lost sight of the fact that the NFL is first and foremost a business. And when the league needed someone who fully understood that, he, more than anyone else in the league, stepped up.
Jones' legacy with the Cowboys will always be more defined by the success of the team on the field, but his value to the league is indisputable. Love him or hate him, it is hard not to respect his stature as the most influential owner in the NFL.