The legitimacy of the NFL and Roger Goodell's legacy are on the line.
After SpyGate, BountyGate, the lockout, heightened fines and suspensions for personal-foul penalties, the concussion crisis and lawsuits from retired players, the way he and his league office handle the current referee lockout will be more career-defining for Goodell than any other issue.
Going into the 2012 regular season with replacement refs, we all were scared but unaware as to how bad the officiating would really be. Some warned that it'd just be a matter of time before the replacements directly decided the outcome of a game.
On Monday night, they did. On the NFL's grandest stage.
Today, the league released an official statement on the bizarre ending to the Seattle Seahawks' 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Blood continues to boil after the league admitted to the missed offensive pass-interference call on the game's final play, but stood behind the initial touchdown call and subsequent replay confirmation.
We should have seen that coming.
A potentially overlooked but definitive and somber sentence in the statement read: "The result of the game is final."
Unfortunately, that's the reality.
The NFL's disagreement with the NFLRA precipitated this madness, but it's true—they can't retroactively give the win to the Packers.
So now, the league finds itself in an extremely precarious yet opportunistic situation. Fans, media and players have begun to turn on the NFL and its commissioner.
But, in its darkest hour, striking a deal with the NFLRA would show everyone angered by what's come of the replacement officials that the league does care. No, the torment of the Monday Night Football fiasco won't instantly vanish. But the return of the replacement officials would spring a collective sigh of relief from everyone involved.
The NFL desperately needs to demonstrate they care—the legitimacy of America's most popular sports league and legacy of Goodell depend on it.
If the two sides can't come to an agreement—soon—it'll drive home what's become blatantly clear: the NFL purely cares about dollar signs, nothing else. Not even the game of football itself.