More than half of NFL owners want to wait before extending Commissioner Roger Goodell's contract because the timing could be a public relations disaster, sources told CNBC.
The league is facing declining ratings and complaints from key sponsors amid the controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against blacks. A majority of the public disagrees with Goodell's handling of the issue, according to a new Harris poll. The NFL has no rule requiring players to stand for the national anthem, though Goodell has said he believes everyone should do so.
The owners who oppose dealing with the contract extension include the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones.
ESPN reported on Sunday that Goodell was seeking a $50 million per year contract extension and lifetime use of a private jet. He currently makes about $30 million.
League spokesman Joe Lockhart on Tuesday denied the report. "The only element of the ESPN report that is true is that there is a regularly scheduled Compensation Committee conference call on Monday," he said in a statement. "There is no basis in fact for any of the other reporting. Those trying to peddle that nonsense are either profoundly misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead."
ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer said the company stands by its reporting.
Six owners have sent Jones a cease-and-desist letter warning of potential punishments for blocking the contract extension, The New York Times reported Monday, citing sources.
Those owners represent the leadership of the NFL compensation committee. Jones had been a nonvoting member of the committee until he was thrown out after threatening to sue the members.
In a statement on behalf of the committee, Arthur Blank said the group "is continuing its work towards finalizing a contract extension" with Goodell. "The negotiations are progressing and we will keep ownership apprised of the negotiations as they move forward. We do not intend to publicly comment on our discussions," Blank said.
Goodell's contract runs through 2018 and some owners don't see the urgency in doing anything before the league meetings later this year, or even before next March, once the group as a whole can discuss and vote on the issue.
The Cowboys did not respond to requests for comment.
Correction: An earlier version misreported the substance of what CNBC's sources had disclosed. They said more than half of NFL owners want to wait before extending Goodell's contract.