Reimer: Roger Goodell's reported extension means owners lose right to lament league's draconian penalties

Alex Reimer
August 22, 2017 - 11:25 am

Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports

Roger Goodell’s turbulent tenure as NFL commissioner carries two different legacies. League revenue continues to skyrocket, reaching $14 billion this year. During the last round of collective bargaining negotiations, the owners crushed the players under Goodell’s leadership, and are poised to do it again. The commissioner gave his billionaire overlords a strong bargaining chip when he reassured his disciplinary powers during the Deflategate saga. 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft says he took Deflategate personally, telling the New York Post this summer he “will never forget” the way Tom Brady was treated and demonized. While that may be true, apparently Kraft’s hard-feelings don’t outweigh his surging bank account. At the May owners’ meetings in Chicago, the owners decided to allow the Compensation Committee to determine Goodell’s fate. On Monday, it was reported the six-person board has decided to retain Goodell for an additional five years. A contract extension is expected to be signed soon. (Interestingly enough, Jerry Jones, who advocated for Goodell to take a pay cut, isn't on the committee.) 

Kraft sits on the Compensation Committee, along with Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, whose club also recently fell victim to Goodell’s kangaroo court. Last year, the Chiefs were stripped of a third-round draft pick for tampering. The previous season, the Jets were only fined $100,000 when owner Woody Johnson publicly expressed his desire to pursue Darrelle Revis while the cornerback was with the Patriots.

To those outside of The Shield, Goodell’s reign has been defined by draconian and arbitrary punishments. The Cowboys experienced his wrath this summer, when running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games for domestic violence, even though the Columbus Police Department dropped the case more than one year ago. Owner Jerry Jones was reportedly "furious" over the ruling. 

There were some murmurs that Kraft and Jones would form an alliance and try to oust Goodell before his contract expired in 2019. But with CBA negotiations coming up in 2020 and broadcast deals set to expire in 2022, it seems as if they decided otherwise. They’ll take the occasional loss in the disciplinary arena if it means they’ll keep winning at the negotiating table.

The owners have enabled Goodell’s authoritarian streak. In 2014, at the height of the Ray Rice scandal, Kraft fiercely advocated for the commissioner. The Patriots owner told CBS’ Charlie Rose Goodell’s handling of the situation was “excellent.”

In reality, Goodell’s management couldn’t have been worse. Originally, he only suspended Rice for two games, only slapping him with an indefinite ban when video was released of Rice punching out his wife in an elevator. A copy of the tape was reportedly delivered to NFL headquarters, though it’s unclear if anybody had watched it. 

Months later, a judge struck down Rice’s suspension, saying a player can’t be punished twice for the same crime. It was reminiscent of the Bountygate ruling, in which former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue –– Goodell’s predecessor –– vacated all player suspensions due to faulty evidence.  

Kraft and the owners know Goodell bungles almost every investigation of significance. But they continue to cover for him, even if it makes them look foolish. Two-year-old sound bites of Jones lauding Goodell’s “fairness” after Deflategate have popped up quite a bit over the last couple of weeks.

Last year, in the midst of the Deflategate legal battle, Kraft even said Goodell has done a “very good job.” It was a public slap on the back, just months after Kraft had decried himself for putting his "faith" in the league during Deflategate. 

The owners have made a clear statement: Goodell’s ability to extract money from the players overrides all of his faults. Last week, NFL Players’ Association head DeMaurice Smith said he thinks a lockout or strike in 2021 is a “virtual certainty.” With Goodell’s reported extension, the owners are telling Smith to bring it on. 

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