What Goodell’s contract extension means

Over the next year in the NFL, there will be a lot of discussion about contracts. There will be player contracts to discuss, dissect, analyze and declare to be good or bad for the player or team. And there will be the most important contract of all, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the contract that NFL owners opted out of two years before its original expiration date. It now needs to be renegotiated between the NFL and its most important (and expensive) partner, the NFL Players Association. We, of course, will be analyzing all issues of that contract negotiation, starting with this week’s Webinar.

One important contract extension was announced last Friday, a bit of a surprise it wasn't due to expire until September 2011. NFL owners extended the contract of Commissioner Roger Goodell for five years, adding over three years to the original term. The question to ask is not "Why?" as Goodell is an excellent fit for the job, guiding the league through a challenging business environment with poise and confidence. The question is, "Why now?" My sense is that the answer is directly related to that other important contract negotiation mentioned above.

The league is a couple of weeks away from football minus a cap for the first time since free agency came to the sport in 1993. Of course, built into the uncapped year are several distasteful rules for the players, including the absence of a salary floor, two additional years required for free agency and the loss of some benefits.

Although that 2006 CBA was ratified by ownership by a 30-2 vote, the league soon found it lacking and wants to roll back the deal made by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (who reportedly is still receiving over $3 million from the league as an outside consultant) three short years ago. In short, the NFL wants the NFLPA to buy into the notion of collective sacrifice in fashioning a better deal than the one it now has with the players. And while NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith has been vocal about what the league is trying to have the union do, Goodell has stayed above the fray, although firm in the belief that it’s time for a new way of doing business with the labor of the league.

Goodell's bosses, the 32 owners (or 31 plus the Cheeseheads), have made a stand of solidarity with this extension. The message from the league heading into this all-important contract negotiation is: We need a different system with the players. We need a voice leading that charge, and Roger's our guy. While Smith has recently put out messages in the media, including the late Gene Upshaw’s mantra that if the cap goes away it will not be back, Goodell has remained silent. But he has now been made secure in his role to effect a change to the system that will benefit his bosses.

Again, the "why" is not the question regarding his early extension. The "why now?" is and can only relate to the labor mission ahead.

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