Jerry Jones stood near a training table in the back corner of the Dallas Cowboys' locker room, the smell of rubbing alcohol so pungent that he joked he would be floating out of the stadium. Jones had good reason to be floating Sunday night -- his team had just beaten the Washington Redskins, 33-19, to keep its postseason hopes alive at 4-3, possibly burying a rival in the process.

But Jones' league remains embroiled in a national controversy about political protests -- and on Sunday night, his best player was headed to New York for another court date to determine his playing status. In recent months, Jones has thrust himself into conversations about a contract extension for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, with whom Jones is unhappy about his handling of Ezekiel Elliott's suspension.

So while Jones briefly put on his sunglasses and jokingly asked reporters "You all know it's me?" there is no losing sight of the fact that Jones remains prominently at the center of virtually every high-profile issue the NFL is facing right now.

Jones, who further inflamed the protest issue when he said he would bench any Cowboys player who did not stand for the national anthem, would not say if he still believed that after the NFL declined at a meeting two weeks ago to mandate that players stand. He said he speaks regularly with Houston Texans owner Robert McNair -- who has apologized for saying in a meeting of owners that the league could not have inmates running the prison, a pronouncement that caused the majority of Texans players to kneel for the anthem on Sunday -- although Jones did not say whether he has spoken to McNair since that quote became public late last week.

Jones, though, sounded as if his own hardline position on the league's response to the protests has softened slightly. He said repeatedly that he viewed these fraught times for the NFL as an opportunity for improvement -- for fans, foremost, but also for players. And he talked at length about, when he played, often having to do what he did not want to do, for the good of the team. Football is not like other sports, he said. It is painful. It causes you to do unnatural things for a positive result, he said. That appears to be how he views the big-picture issues the league faces, too.

"We are all, the whole constituency, are here for the fans," Jones said. "We really are here for them -- that's what we play for, that's who we depend on, everything goes back to us being something that is attractive to our fans. But my point is this angst we've got, these different issues that are causing us to come together, no matter what position you're in in the NFL, we can all do better. And I certainly can. I'm really for pushing the envelope and pushing to see where we can get it better. I want to do that for my players, and I certainly want to do it for my fans and I want to do it for other people, the companies and everybody, that are part of backing the Cowboys.