Wealthy owners are happy owners, unpacking the Raiders move and Josh Gordon's job prospects.
1. When Everyone's Rich, Everyone's Happy
Toward the end of the Deflategate kerfuffle, a few owners told me they wondered if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in trouble. They wondered whether Deflategate would be his Waterloo. They wondered if this was the beginning of the end of Goodell's tenure.
Recently, though, I received a different prognosis from two of those owners, who are now spending the week at the NFL annual meeting in Phoenix.
Despite some of the mistakes Goodell has made, including Deflategate and the Ray Rice fiasco, his footing has stabilized among ownership, even ones who didn't think he was doing a good job.
Why? It's simple. Goodell is the head of the league at a time when it is making unprecedented levels of money, and owners have put aside their issues with him because their pockets are getting fatter.
In fact, Goodell's popularity among owners has increased.
Owners see him as someone who basically will do what they say, I'm told. This is essentially the case with all commissioners—they work for the owners, after all. But the word in the NFL is Goodell takes this to a new level.
He did take on one of the most powerful owners in all of sports, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, but all of that has been lost in a haze of money, as one owner put it to me.
Repeatedly, owners expressed their belief that the NFL has maneuvered its way past three of the biggest land mines it has ever faced: Deflategate, CTE and the Rice fiasco.
Now, owners tell me, the NFL is making more money than it ever has before, and the predictions that the league could possibly suffer a huge blow in popularity haven't materialized. (I was one of those who expressed such a viewpoint.) It seems the NFL is back to business as usual.
Owners are moving their teams at will—and making tons of cash doing it—while leaving fanbases in ruins. The latter part doesn't matter to owners; the former does. Twitter streamed some Thursday Night Football games last year, and now it, Facebook, Amazon and YouTube might battle to do the same in 2017, according to Recode's Kurt Wagner.
Look at how lucrative the Raiders' move to Las Vegas will be for the league. The state of Nevada is expected to contribute $750 million in public funding to the Raiders' new stadium, according to ESPN's Kevin Seifert. That's enough of a fleecing. An additional $200 million in public funding is expected to cover maintenance fees.
Whether the taxes would be raised from hotels and casinos is irrelevant. The NFL, with revenues of $14 billion (per Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal), getting that kind of money is remarkable.
Then, there is this remarkable piece of information, and it comes from Dr. Windy Dees, who is an associate professor at the University of Miami, and specializes in sports business. She tweeted that in the three franchise moves of the Chargers, Rams and Raiders alone, the NFL gained $1.65 billion in relocation fees. Those three teams keep a large swath of that money, and the other 29, Dees says, get $53 million each.
None of the relocation money goes to the players.
Wow. Just wow.
This is the Goodell Economy. This is what owners care about the most, and it's why he's still around despite mishandling some of the biggest scandals in NFL history.
One owner explained it this way: It's like being the president of the United States when the economy is going well. The president's policies may or may not have contributed to a prosperous country, but he gets credit for it anyway.
Many players and fans despite Goodell. Outside of former Colts owner Bob Irsay, who moved the team from Baltimore in the middle of the night, there may not be a more universally criticized figure in league history than Goodell.
But so long as the money keeps rolling in, none of that seems to matter.
2. The NFL's Dangerous Hypocrisy
For decades, the NFL has spoken loudly and publicly about the dangers of gambling. The league has told players to stay out of casinos and refrain from betting on the sport. It even joined others in fighting legalized gambling in the courts.
It's not that players cannot gamble; they can place a wager online and no one would ever know.
But there's something different about having a team located in the gambling capital of the universe while the NFL preaches that players should never gamble. There's always been a hypocritical element to all of this. Fantasy football is gambling, and the league profits from this and many other forms of wagering.
Still, the Raiders' move is different, and people around the sport are more than slightly concerned about what having a team in Las Vegas will mean.
They're scared of the scandals that could emerge.
3. Moving Days
These are the first owners' meetings in 23 years in which a vacancy in Los Angeles hasn't been discussed, according to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.
Indeed, the dynamics of the sport are changing. With the addition of Las Vegas and the loss of teams in San Diego and Oakland, we are seeing the sport's geographical orientation shift quicker than in any era since the expansion years.
4. Don't Get Fooled, Las Vegas
One word of caution for all of those in Las Vegas celebrating the arrival of the Raiders. Sure, the hotels are going to pay for the relocation fees (supposedly) with taxes on tourism (allegedly), but if there's one thing I've learned about covering franchise moves, it's that taxpayers eventually pay for something. It's usually multiple somethings, and it's usually expensive somethings. This is just the way these things work. According to Chris Heller of Pacific Standard, $12 billion in public money went toward privately owned stadiums from 2000-2015.
So while lots of Vegas Raiders fans are screaming at me about how taxpayers won't pay a dime, don't be a sucker. Somehow, some way, the bill will come due.
5. Yet Another Example of Why Concussions Are Dangerous
One of the more disturbing stories that has remained under the radar is what's happening with Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Michael Oher, the subject of the 2006 Michael Lewis book, The Blind Side. At the end of last September, he landed in the league's concussion protocol and missed the final 13 games of the season.
Six months later, Oher is still in the protocol, per Bryan Strickland of the Panthers' team website.
It's not unprecedented for someone to experience symptoms from a concussion months later. Other players believe more than a few of their peers are in similar situations, but they don't end up in the protocol, or if they do, they don't spend as much time in it as they should.
The numbers may not be startling, but a lot of players have told me privately they know others who have suffered from concussion symptoms for months and somehow escaped the protocol. Oher isn't so much an exception as he is a public example of how long it can take to fully recover from a concussion.
6. Is Richard Sherman on the Move?
Multiple reports have surfaced that Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman may be available in a trade.
Would the Seahawks really do that? The short answer is no.
Are they open to it? Again, the short answer is no.
Far stranger things have happened, but I can't find a single person in the league who believes Seattle will deal Sherman. The belief is that it would cost too many draft picks to get him, and the Seahawks still believe Sherman is too good to trade. Again, anything is possible, but it doesn't seem likely to happen.
(Of course, this means it will happen this week.)
7. Is Gronk Held to a Different Standard Than Zeke?
I present this for a reason beyond Gronk's pecs getting clicks. A few writers have compared Gronk's partying to Ezekiel Elliott's, such as David Whitley of the Orlando Sentinel and Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt, yet it has not garnered nearly the outcry from fans or those in the league. Some of my social media followers have been arguing Elliott's partying is no different from Gronk's, which makes the focus on Elliott hypocritical.
On the surface, there is truth to this. Two players, two dudes...partying. There is one glaring difference. Gronk, as far as we know, has never faced any serious legal accusations. Elliott has faced one, and the NFL's investigation into that accusation is ongoing.
Not to mention, Gronk has Super Bowl rings. His performance on the field over the years gives him more leeway to party off of it.
To me, this isn't hypocrisy. It's just Gronk at a DJ booth.
8. Will He or Won't He?
Browns receiver Josh Gordon posted a shirtless picture of himself Monday on Instagram—there's an unintentional theme with these last two notes—and he looks ready to play. But being a good player was never the problem with Gordon.
Gordon is out of the NFL because he failed multiple drug tests in a league with a draconian attitude toward marijuana. Still, those are the rules. When I speak about Gordon to people around the league, they love his talent, but they remain skeptical that he won't be kicked out again even if he's reinstated.
Gordon hasn't played an NFL game in two years, and team officials think his reinstatement is possible but far from certain. The Browns plan to trade or release him if he is allowed back, I've confirmed. They don't trust him (duh), but don't be surprised if they, too, are swayed by his talent. It's irresistible. That's why, if the commissioner gives Gordon the OK to play again, he won't be without a job for long despite his issues.
9. Tom Brady Forever
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said this week that Tom Brady thinks he can play for six to seven more years, according to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss.
When I asked a few assistant coaches about this, I expected them to express a fair amount of doubt. It was the opposite. They all said Brady could probably do it because, well, he's Tom Brady.
One explicitly said he will never doubt Brady.
Neither will I.
10. One of a Kind
There are many reasons Martellus Bennett is one of the more enjoyable players to cover in the NFL. Now he's given us another reason:
Bennett is going to donate money from his jersey sales in Green Bay to the after-school programs he's developing. Bennett makes lots of jokes—and he's funny—but he's even more admirable for the social consciousness he's long harbored.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.