Roger Goodell's Best, Worst Moves as NFL Commissioner
Love him or hate him, it is difficult to be neutral when it comes to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. It will take the city of New Orleans a long time to let its anger boil over for the way Goodell destroyed the Saints' 2012 season.
For every good move that the commissioner has tried to make, critics can quickly point to two or three other moves that were questionable at best.
A Sports Illustrated article by Steve Rushin addressed who had the most power in the world of sports. The article was titled "SI's Power 50 List: Who sits atop our Throne of Games." Rushin placed Goodell at the top of the list.
Power can be a good thing if you subscribe to the philosophies of Tony Montana. But it can also be abused. If you tried to view Goodell's decisions from neutral ground, you would have to conclude that he has gone too far on more than one occasion.
While attempting to be as neutral as possible, this presentation will alternatively look at the good and the bad decisions that Commissioner Goodell has made on the job. There is no doubt that the NFL has grown during his watch, but purists wonder what all the rule changes will turn the sport into 10 years down the road.
Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on Commissioner Goodell. What do you like that he has done, and what decisions do you detest? Since so many people are passionate about the NFL, it is not out of the question that slides meant to be a positive for some people will be viewed as quite the opposite for others. And so it goes.
Best Move: Restoring the Integrity of the Pro Bowl Game
Commissioner Goodell became irate at the quality of the 2012 Pro Bowl game. The AFC won 59-41, but it's fair to say that both teams' defenses barely went through the motions. It was clear that the players were more interested in not getting hurt than in playing football.
As a result, Goodell threatened the players that the league would cancel the game if the level of play didn't drastically improve.
The 2013 Pro Bowl didn't have the hard hits of a playoff game, but people really weren't expecting it to. They just wanted to see their favorite players competing against the best in the league.
What other steps Goodell will take to maintain the integrity of the game remain to be seen.
For the players, the trip to Hawaii is a chance to take a nice break with their families after a long season being away from home. It is also a way to reward players for being the best at their position.
For another take on the game, here is a YouTube video from ex-Denver Broncos GM Ted Sundquist, who shares his opinion on the way the game was played.
Football fans will probably tune in to the Pro Bowl regardless, because they love to watch football in any way, shape or form.
Worst Move: Still No NFL Team in Los Angeles
Say what you want to about the city of Los Angeles, but it is still amazing that the second-largest city in the country doesn't have its own NFL team.
I realize that the city of Los Angeles itself shares in the blame for this debacle, as it has struggled to come up with a location that everybody can agree on.
As a former resident of Southern California, I can recall the pain and disbelief of watching the Rams and Raiders move out of town. The 2013 season will be the 19th straight year that Los Angeles is without a pro football team (no USC jokes please).
When will Los Angeles get a team again? Will it have its own expansion team, or will it wind up being a franchise that couldn't make it somewhere else?
However the team comes into being, it needs to win to be become a viable part of the city. Los Angeles turns its backs on losing teams, as it did to the Clippers for many years.
Some people probably feel that Los Angeles already had its chance and blew it. But NFL owners can be a fickle bunch, so I place the blame on the former owners rather than on the city.
Best Move: Limiting the Number of Concussions in the Game
Football fans want to see their heroes go on and lead productive lives after their playing days are over. But when you see someone like Junior Seau decide to take his own life, it makes you wonder if the game is really worth it.
There was also the Jovan Belcher tragedy last year, but it's difficult to prove what was the final straw that drove him to commit murder and suicide.
It is bad enough that the league is facing a huge lawsuit from former NFL players regarding the dangers of playing with concussions. The case went to court in Philadelphia this week, and it will no doubt be an important case in the history of the league.
Goodell has done his part in trying to increase awareness of the issue through rule changes, equipment changes and improving the medical guidelines for treating players with concussion symptoms.
Another good development is the addition of video cameras that are designed to watch how players react after they were involved in a violent collision on the field. These personnel are supplied by the NFL, and they are in communication with team doctors about any health issues that might otherwise slip under the radar during NFL games.
Worst Move: Taking the Fun out of the Game (TD Celebrations)
It is hard enough to make an NFL team, but it is even harder to score a touchdown against the combined size, speed and power of NFL defenders. To take a second and celebrate with your teammates, or share in the joy with the fans, was a highlight of any NFL game.
But not for Commissioner Goodell. He decided that the end zone celebrations had gone too far, and he instructed the league to start throwing penalty flags for excessive celebrations.
Granted, some of the antics of wide receiver divas like Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson and Stevie Johnson might have deserved a penalty flag for poor judgement. But the majority of them were meant to be fun or entertaining.
Celebrating touchdowns is a special moment in a game, and when you prevent that from happening, it takes some of the fun out of games.
Best Move: Expanding the International Appeal of the NFL
It is always interesting to watch the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where you start learning more information about the backgrounds of NFL prospects. One thing that struck me this year at the combine was how many draft prospects hailed from other countries around the world.
Just look at the draft: You have Ziggy Anseh, Margus Hunt and Bjoern Werner, who hail from foreign countries. Each of them figure to go anywhere in the top 90 picks.
In 2013, the NFL will not play one, but two regular-season games in London. One contest features the Minnesota Vikings against the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the Jacksonville Jaguars will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the other game.
And the Buffalo Bills have re-signed their deal to play one regular-season game in Toronto for the 2013-2017 seasons.
Between the international coverage of the Super Bowl, foreign fan clubs of the NFL teams and fans getting up at strange hours across the globe to watch their favorite team play, football continues to grow on an international scale.
Worst Moves: Serving as Judge and Jury for NFL Fines and Suspensions
Whether it is doling out fines to players or deciding how many games to suspend a player, Commissioner Goodell serves as the one-man judge and jury in these matters. There is no arbitration panel that the player can turn to or a neutral party that can weigh in with an objective opinion.
Commissioner Goodell will gather game film, or witness reports, depending on what situation is up for discussion, and then make a ruling on the matter. The players are allowed to appeal the decision, but frequently, their pleas fall on deaf ears.
James Harrison (most recently employed by the Pittsburgh Steelers) had a history of collecting fines from Commissioner Goodell due to some vicious hits. In an interview I conducted with Jim Kelly for Bleacher Report, the ex-quarterback didn't have a problem with the hits that Harrison made, even though he laid out Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with a big blow.
We could go through a long list of players that have been suspended for at least one game by Goodell, but the point is that the athletes are very limited in how they can try to minimize the impact of the fine or the suspension.
Best Move: Helping to Resolve the Work Stoppage in 2011
The 2011 season was very much in jeopardy of ever seeing the light of day, until all the endless hours of negotiations between the NFLPA, the owners and Commissioner Goodell finally led to a new labor agreement.
While it can be said that certain owners and players played a key role in helping to bridge the gap, Commissioner Goodell kept harping on both sides to get back to the negotiating table and continue communicating about their differences.
Through a tenacious approach and staying the course the NFL and Goodell were able to escape without cancelling any regular-season games.
Every time a major sports organization strikes, a certain percentage of fans will walk away and never return. Still, the NFL continues to flourish, and the new agreement will allow for the league to enjoy some harmony until the contract expires in 2021.
If multiple games had to be cancelled, or if the season was canned, that would have left a huge black mark on Goodell's tenure and legacy.
Worst Move: Hiring Substitute Referees in 2013
The date was September 24, 2012. It was a Monday Night Football contest between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers lost the contest, 14-12, thanks to a blown call in the end zone by a crew of NFL replacement referees.
With the integrity of the game being compromised by this band of wannabee referees, Goodell quickly put the wheels in motion to reach an agreement that allowed the veteran referees to return to their jobs for the following week.
It should have never come to that, though.
The NFL is a huge multi-billion dollar business that makes money hand over fist. The referees were making reasonable requests, and the NFL was too cheap to take care of its own officiating crews.
Not only that, but the league dropped the ball on doing sufficient background checks on the replacements. There was the embarrassing story about Brian Stropolo, who was scheduled to work a New Orleans Saints game. The only problem was that the league failed to realize that Stropolo was a Saints fan, because it didn't bother to do its due diligence.
Teams can be eliminated from the postseason by coming up just one game short. To have any single game determined by anybody other than the best-trained crews is simply ludicrous.
Best Move: Salary Cap Continues to Keep the NFL Competitive
Commissioner Goodell is employed by all 32 NFL owners. No doubt each owner would like to to see his team become a dynasty in the league, but due to the nature of free agency and the salary cap limitations, that is hard to do.
Goodell did not the salary cap, so he can't take responsibility for it. It was initially put into place in 1994, and he didn't assume the role of commissioner until 2006. But by keeping the salary cap numbers on a gradual uphill scale, all 32 teams have a realistic chance to field a competitive team.
The proof is in the standings. For the past 10 years, at least one team that finished in last place in its division one year claimed first place in the following year. The last example to pull off the feat was the Washington Redskins.
That is a tribute to the competitiveness and parity of the NFL. That is also why they say that on any given Sunday, any team can win.
Worst Move: New Orleans Bountygate Decisions
The original suspensions to the New Orleans Saints players were considered harsh, especially since they were just following orders from their defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The nature of the suspensions and the proof didn't seem so convincing when ex-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue got involved in the hearings and dismissed the Saints players.
This whole debacle is a great illustration of what happens when you give somebody who is very stubborn too much power. Goodell couldn't see the forest through the trees and became obstinate with the media and all other parties involved.
Maybe someday down the road we will finally know the truth about Bountygate, but until then, this whole adventure is clearly a blemish on Commissioner Goodell's track record.
Best Move: Keeping NFL Owners in Check
Depending on which NFL team you root for, you will either applaud this slide or hate this slide.
The NFL owners hired Goodell to keep order over the league and to keep the other owners in line. This slide is dedicated to the move that Goodell made to penalize the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys for deals they constructed in 2010 that went against league wishes.
For those who don't happen to recall, the NFL wasn't operating with a salary cap in 2010. Because of that, the NFL warned every NFL team that when it came to signing deals that year, teams were discouraged from the practice of front-loading contracts for that season and carrying less compensation on the future years.
Goodell claims that he warned teams repeatedly to stop doing this, but two teams felt that since their contracts kept getting approved by the league, it was okay to continue with the practice. Those teams were obviously the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
When the dust settled and Goodell realized just how much the two NFC East division teams had taken advantage of the situation, the commissioner set an example by stripping Washington of $36 million from its salary cap and taking $10 million from Dallas.
The teams were allowed to split the difference over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, with that extra amount being spread out to the remaining 30 NFL teams.
Goodell demonstrated that he doesn't play favorites, and if you cross the line, he will find a way to make you pay. It doesn't matter if you are a player or an owner—everyone is accountable.
Worst Move: Poor Track Record of Minority Hires
The Rooney Rule was a positive step in the right direction. It called for a minority candidate to be included in the interview process for any major head coaching or senior football operation position.
While the Rooney Rule was created in 2003, which was prior to Goodell taking office, it's up to Goodell to see to it that the rule is enforced and not just a legal technicality that can be brushed aside.
As we review the list of new head coaches and general managers that were hired in 2013, there were a total of eight new head coaches and seven new general managers. Out of those 15 hires, none of them were a minority, which shows that the Rooney Rule has lost its effectiveness.
There has been talk about the league implementing the Rooney Rule for coordinator vacancies; if more minorities were hired as coordinators, that would increase their chances of being promoted to head coaching roles.
Best Move: Creating a Fund to Take Care of Retired NFL Players
On March 18, 2013, the NFL announced that it had established a new $42 million fund that would provide financial assistance to veteran players in exchange for using their likeness or image. The fund was the result of a settlement, and it should really help some older veteran players who had fallen on hard times.
Another benefit of this deal was that the NFL created a licensing agency for the retired players.
We applaud this action and feel that it was long overdue.
This is the kind of common sense move that the NFL should be making. It's gestures or practices like this that allow a sport to continue flourishing from one generation to the next.
Worst Move: Suspending Sean Payton for an Entire Season
The decision that Commissioner Goodell made to suspend New Orleans head coach Sean Payton for an entire season has to be one of the cruelest decisions he has ever made.
It is one thing to take away a guy's livelihood for an entire year, but it is another thing to take a stance that you have all kinds of proof and fail to deliver any proof that warrants such a lengthy sentence.
The decision to suspend Payton for an entire year is a great example of Goodell applying too much power and thinking that he needs to set precedents and examples for everyone in his footsteps to follow.
A much shorter suspension and fine would have been much more appropriate given the limited proof of Payton's level of involvement.
Even after Goodell was unable to furnish additional proof, he still stuck to his guns and stripped the Saints of their second-round draft pick this year. It shows that Goodell can be infuriatingly stubborn and difficult to reason with.
Okay fans, let's hear your take. What do you like that Commissioner Goodell has done, and what moves do your disapprove of?
Thanks for checking out the presentation. Follow me on Twitter: @DanVanWie