In blame game, Cowboys owner Jones popular target

ON THE NFL

November 12, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When in doubt, blame Jerry Jones.

Whenever there's a problem in the league - from the shredding of the salary cap to the Browns' proposed move from Cleveland to Baltimore - the Dallas Cowboys owner seems to get blamed.

Jones was on center stage Jones again last week when he filed a $750 million lawsuit against the league to coincide with his team's appearance on "Monday Night Football." Jones' action countered the league's $300 million suit against him over his marketing deals.

The last time the Cowboys were on Monday night, opening the season, Jones announced the signing of a deal with Nike.

But this time, Browns owner Art Modell upstaged him by announcing on the same day that he was moving the team to Baltimore.

Jones wasn't overshadowed for long.

He announced he's not accepting the settlement between the league and the NFL Players Association on the structure of Deion Sanders' contract. Jones wants to count it his way under the cap.

He also said he'll give Emmitt Smith a new deal after the season. The announcement was just in time to get Smith in a good mood for today's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

It was supposed to be the game of the year, but the Cowboys are 10 1/2 -point favorites. With the 49ers slowed by injuries, it figures to be another easy Cowboys victory.

Jones has become such a dominant figure in the league that it wasn't a surprise that he was blamed when the Browns' move was announced.

Modell said Jones' signing of Sanders caused some of the financial pressures that forced him to move. Modell said he was acting out of "need, not greed."

Mike Brown, general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals who turned down the Baltimore deal in June and whose father, Paul Brown, founded the Cleveland Browns, said: "That's the Jerry Jones philosophy. Go where the buck is. If you don't, it's your fault. Well, that's somebody's America, but it doesn't happen to be mine."

Carmen Policy, the 49ers president, said, "I'm not going to blame Jerry per se, but ... " And then blamed Jones.

Jones said he thought the Browns' move was a fine idea. He's all for the bottom line, and Modell's Browns will become one of the most profitable teams in the league in Baltimore.

The owners, though, will have to endure a firestorm of criticism before approving the move. It's causing much more of a stir than the departure of the two Los Angeles teams earlier this year.

Congress has called for hearings, and the Pittsburgh fans will wear orange armbands tomorrow night for the Browns-Steelers game to mourn the end of the Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry.

The Browns aren't your typical distressed team that moves. They're fourth in attendance in the league in the 1990s despite a losing record in this decade, were second in TV ratings to Dallas last year and, according to Financial World magazine, were eighth in gross revenue last year and made $6 million in profits.

Modell disputes those figures, saying he lost $21 million the last two years.

The magazine stands by its figures and said Modell's reports of losses were caused by creative accounting.

Unless the Browns open their books, it's impossible to know which side is right.

In any case, commissioner Paul Tagliabue often has insisted that the courts have said the league could set up objective standards for approving moves. Still, the NFL hasn't rejected a move since it lost the Raiders case in 1982.

Despite all his past rhetoric, it'll be a surprise if Tagliabue can round up eight negatives votes to block the Browns' move with a court fight.

Jones likes the Browns' move and Tagliabue doesn't want to get another fight with the Cowboys' owner.

As long as Jones is on Baltimore's side, the Browns figure to play at Memorial Stadium next year.

The nickname

There seems to be debate whether the Browns were named for Paul Brown, the team founder, or boxing great Joe Louis, who was known as the Brown Bomber.

But Mike Brown, Paul's son, wants to end that debate.

"They were named after my dad. That was a point of pride with us," he said. "I always thought he was worthy of that."

Asked whether the Baltimore Browns would mean the same thing, he said, "Not to me."

The coaching derby

Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes got what amounts to an ultimatum from owner William Clay Ford last week: Make the playoffs or else.

Asked whether he would make a coaching change if the Lions fail to make it, Ford said, "I probably would."

Fontes said: "I'm as frustrated as he is. If we don't make the playoffs, whatever he decides to do, I'll respect it."

Meanwhile, Browns coach Bill Belichick could be in almost as much trouble as Fontes.

Although Belichick got what appeared to be a vote of confidence when Modell told the players he'll coach the team in Baltimore next year, that doesn't mean he can't change his mind.

Modell seems to think the team should play well despite its lame-duck status. Since no coach in modern NFL history has faced such a situation, it may be impossible for him to get the players' minds back into the game.

The legal file

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