ARLINGTON, Texas — Jerry didn't look good.
He's in his 70s, which is old, but this is Jerry Jones. He's always looked more vibrant than his age. Besides, on Sunday night he didn't look old, exactly, or sick, or tired. He looked … diminished.
But then, it was after 11 p.m., and after a loss, and after four hours with Chris Christie at his elbow. That alone would diminish anyone.
Jones is back in the saddle again, but he doesn't look up to the ride. He wants to rein in the NFL compensation committee tasked with extending the contract of commissioner Roger Goodell, who is considered crucial in future labor negotiations, which will come to a head in 2021. Jones once allied himself with Goodell, but then tasted the painful lash of Goodell's judiciary power when the commissioner suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott in August for six games in connection with an alleged domestic violence incident. The Cowboys played their second Zeke-less game Sunday, which resulted in a second consecutive loss, this time at home, in a Sunday Night Football game at which Jones honored himself for being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He wore his gold jacket for that halftime ceremony; typical Cowboys pageantry, self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing, which Jones used to promote his anti-Goodell agenda.
After the game, now wearing a Cowboy-blue wool blazer, Jones, never one for subtlety or diplomacy, held a pair of 15-minute impromptu news conferences outside the Cowboys' locker room to make sure his message was delivered.
He's tired of seeing Goodell abuse his power; at least, Jones is tired now that it's Jones being abused. When the owners meet Dec. 13, he wants to discuss restricting that power before they give Goodell $300 million through 2024.
"The commissioner is probably the most powerful person, relative to his constituency, in America. If you want to make positive changes, you want to make that power accountable to the owners," Jones said. "We all want more accountability. Unprecedented accountability, to the ownership."
Of course, Jones had no problem with Goodell's lack of accountability when Goodell suspended Tom Brady for four games last year over flat footballs and a busted cellphone. Jones didn't mind Goodell mishandling domestic abuse and concussion issues for years. But then, those issues didn't affect revenue. Now, though, protests of social injustices during the national anthem might be affecting TV ratings and attendance, so Jones is upset with Goodell's handling of the matter.
Jones is buttering up peers and building alliances as he flexes what remains of his muscles and prepares for a fight.
"Everything I'm about right now has to do with how excited I am about the future of this league and what we need to do. We've got the most qualified people in the league as owners that I've ever been associated with," Jones said. "They're people that really think. They're knowledgeable. We need to engage them in every significant decision that we're [making]. They need to literally … have some influence with their vote. When you do that is when somebody's hired, or when they're extended."
When somebody's hired? Is Jones publicly advocating to replace Goodell?
Not exactly. He just wants the owners to control Goodell more. As it stands, Goodell essentially acts as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to discipline for players and owners, and that makes Jones chafe.
"We aren't [replacing Goodell], but if we were getting someone new — that's when you assess, sit down and say to them, 'This is how we'd like these issues to be done,'" Jones said.
Jones insists that his ultimate motive, regardless of the issue, always has been to make the NFL better. Resistance is inevitable.
"Everything we're doing is about making this league better. By the way, that usually comes with angst. Very much angst," Jones said. "I've always thought that I needed to be an example. … Everything I've done is in the best interest of the league. It's very rarely been without a lot of push-back."
All of that might seem defiant in print, but sounded creaky in person, like a car with a rusted undercarriage. Perhaps the moment diminished the delivery.
His stadium was infested with green-blooded fans who had ridden the Wentz Wagon to a 9-1 record and a four-game lead in the NFC East. His quarterback, Dak Prescott, had played the worst game of his career. His conflict with the compensation committee had earned him a reprimand and spawned rumors that the owners might make him sell the Cowboys. And, two days before, he had to apologize for a racially insensitive remark he made four years ago.
Once, Jones thrived on controversy. Now, it seems to be deflating him.
It's hard to not relish the Cowboys' misery, which has no end in sight. Zeke's gone. The left tackle and middle linebacker are hurt. They went 13-3 last season, but they're 5-5 now. They lost their last two games by a combined score of 64-16. Next up: the Chargers, on Thanksgiving. The Chargers scored 54 points against the Bills on Sunday.
Gloating is unseemly. Pity is more appropriate.
Consider what the Cowboys have become. Since their Super Bowl win after the 1995 season, they are tied with the Eagles in Super Bowl wins (zero). They have made the playoffs just nine times, where they're 3-9. By comparison, the Eagles have gone to the playoffs 11 times, are 10-11 and went to a Super Bowl.
It's been 22 years since the Cowboys took home the Lombardi Trophy. America's Team is a full generation removed from the ultimate achievement.
They might have to wait another generation for their next taste. Jerry's 75.