Jerry Jones used to be the NFL's most powerful owner, and it wasn't debatable.
He was the face of the NFL, whether he was helping push through a league-mandated salary cap or creating the concept of stadium marketing deals, dissing NFL protocol in the process.
Those days officially ended with a thud Monday when the NFL snatched away $10 million of the $120.6 million salary cap space from the Dallas Cowboys on the eve of NFL free agency.
The Cowboys' crime: circumventing an apparent unwritten rule regarding the uncapped 2010 season.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell showed Jerry who wields the power in the NFL -- and it ain't the Cowboys' owner.
Goodell is omnipotent, the league's Alpha and Omega, its judge and jury. All must bow before him and kiss his ring -- even Jerry, who pays 1/32 of his salary.
Now, more than ever, this is Goodell's league.
Hey, it could've been worse. The league took $36 million worth of salary cap space from the Washington Redskins. The extra cap space was divided among 28 teams. Oakland and New Orleans also violated the unwritten rules to a lesser degree, so they weren't penalized, aside from not getting the extra cap space.
The NFL didn't like Miles Austin's 2010 contract extension, even though it approved the deal.
The Cowboys signed the wide receiver to a six-year extension worth $54 million and paid him a $17 million base salary, which worked within the rules of an uncapped season. In a capped season, players are normally given large signing bonuses that are prorated over the course of the contract to come up with a salary cap charge.
In the original deal, Austin was supposed to receive a 2011 base salary of $8.5 million. The Cowboys created salary cap room prior to last season by lowering Austin's base to $685,000 and turning $7.855 million into a signing bonus, a common practice by teams across the league.
Here's the gist of what the NFL's Management Council said about the salary cap circumventions.
"The Management Council Executive Committee determined that the contract practices of a small number of clubs during the 2010 league year created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance," the NFL said in a statement, "particularly in light of the relatively modest salary cap growth projected for the new agreement's early years."
Let's work through the gobbledygook.
This sounds like what might have happened: The owners convened, colluded and created their own set of ground rules for how to handle the uncapped season. Jerry, as he usually does, violated the spirit of the agreement in a never-ending quest to gain an edge. So did the Redskins, Saints and Raiders.
Since the owners had an illegal agreement, so to speak, Jerry figured that if any of the owners whined about his approach, the worst he'd receive was a public reprimand and a fine. Back in the day, Jerry probably would've been right. Times have clearly changed.
The Cowboys, for all their national TV appearances and network popularity, are irrelevant these days.
That's what happens when a franchise slips into the abyss of mediocrity. Dallas is 120-120 with six head coaches and one playoff win since 1997.
The Cowboys have missed the playoffs three of the past four seasons. A generation of kids in Dallas-Fort Worth have no idea Jerry and the Cowboys used to rule the NFL.
Since Goodell could never fine Jerry enough money to get his attention, Goodell grabbed about 5 percent of his salary cap space each of the next two seasons.
All is not lost.
So it won't exactly be like discovering your credit cards are maxed out the night before Black Friday.
Whining about this predicament is worthless. An appeals process doesn't exist, and life has never been fair.
Sure, Jerry could sue the NFL -- Al Davis did it a million times -- and a court might rule in the Cowboys' favor 10 years from now and return their salary-cap space.
That won't help the Cowboys sign a single player right now.
Jerry and the Cowboys took a calculated risk by not following the letter of an unwritten law. Honor among thieves is a fallacy.
Jerry simply figured being Jerry made him immune to the consequences.
Jerry's swagger is gone. Goodell runs the NFL now.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.