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Armour: Should NFL Owners Replace Roger Goodell as Commissioner?

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Photo: ANDY CLAYTON-KING/AP

Roger Goodell isn’t going anywhere. Even if he did, it wouldn’t fix the NFL’s problems.

Not unless the 32 owners go with him, too.

It’s easy to pile on Goodell and, Lord knows, he’s given critics ample reason to do so. The heavy-handed and inconsistent discipline. The watered-down product that’s resulted from Thursday night games. The pigheadedness over head trauma and its long-term consequences.

But all of those issues, along with the folly of forcing the Chargers on Los Angeles, is the fault of owners whose only concern is their bottom line. A little negative PR – heck, even a lot – is a small price to pay when their franchises are worth an average of $2.5 billion, according to Forbes, and getting more valuable with every year.

The NFL’s compensation committee has a conference call Wednesday, during which a five-year extension that would keep Goodell on the job through 2024 will be discussed. There was a brief stir over the weekend when ESPN reported that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had inserted himself in the process and was trying to slow it down as payback for Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension.

Jones is the league’s most powerful owner, and he’s not shy about using his influence. If he loses faith in Goodell, the commissioner best start updating his resume.

But Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who heads up the compensation committee, quickly shot that conspiracy theory down. In an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Blank said he had already told Goodell the report was “off base.”

“I’m not sure where they were coming from, because the committee is very solid in terms of our commitment to the process we’re involved in,” Blank said.

Of course it is.

Sure, the owners could replace Goodell with a commissioner who has a better appreciation for the social issues confronting the NFL – domestic violence, Colin Kaepernick and the anthem protests – and is more receptive to working with the players union. But why would they want that?

Goodell’s greatest strength as commissioner is not his marketing ability, his legal smarts or his people skills. It’s his willingness to do the owners’ bidding, and take the blame when things go south.

It’s a model that has made them all ridiculously wealthy, Goodell included, and there is zero incentive to mess with it.

According to Forbes, all but five of the NFL’s 32 teams are worth $2 billion or more; five years ago, only the Cowboys could make that claim. The league pulls in so much money that the $244 million distributed in revenue sharing last year was enough to cover the $155.27 million salary cap – and then some.

The owners will look at the balance sheet and see no reason not to continue with the status quo. But there are factors beyond the bottom line that should give them pause.

First, Goodell’s contract isn’t up until the end of 2019. He’s a lifelong NFL employee, and any other job would be a demotion. If the owners wait another year, even two, it’s not as if they’re going to find themselves in a bidding war for him.

More importantly, come 2021, the NFL is going to face its most serious challenges since the USFL launched. The current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season, and negotiations for a new deal will be brutal.

The NFL Players Association is livid at what it believes is Goodell’s continued overreach on discipline, and isn’t likely to give in so easily on reining him this next time around. The NBA’s massive guaranteed contracts have not gone unnoticed by the players, either, especially with the league wanting to extend the season.

The current TV deals expire after the 2021-22 season, too. While it’s far too soon to predict what the viewing landscape will look like then, it’s safe to say it will be vastly different. The NFL, and virtually every other sport, has already seen its ratings take a hit because of cord cutting, a trend that’s likely only to accelerate.

The NFL has been proactive in exploring new forms of media, streaming games on Yahoo, Twitter and Amazon. But can those deals match the reach – and riches – the NFL gets from traditional broadcasters?

And while the season is only two weeks old, the Los Angeles experiment is so far proving to be a dud. The Chargers can’t even fill a 27,000-seat stadium, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week the city can take or leave the team.

It’s fair to ask whether Goodell is the right person to confront all these issues. But the better question might be whether the owners are.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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