In the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Stockton Street, nestled amid the marble and crystal and leather, there is a jar filled with fortune cookies. On Wednesday afternoon, in a conference room two stories below that lobby, the commissioner of the National Football League stood behind a podium and delivered several hazy and oblique proclamations that might well have been cribbed from that jar.
There are still serious questions lingering about Roger Goodell and the league he presides over after this week's NFL spring meetings broke up following Goodell's press conference. And as has been the case in recent months, Goodell's answers were not exactly definitive, his public presence far from reassuring, his words often couched and hedged.
There are ongoing concerns about the Patriots and the deflation of footballs and an appeals process that will no longer include the Patriots themselves, but will still include Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association, potentially in a fight against Goodell himself. Beyond that, there are questions about the future of the extremely close relationship between Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Goodell, after Kraft agreed to drop the Patriots' appeal against the league this week. "The decision that Robert made was his decision," Goodell said. "I admire and respect Robert, as you all know. This was his initiative, something he wanted to do."
There is the additional worry about Goodell hearing an appeal and also being called as a potential witness in the Brady suspension appeal, a situation that Goodell didn't really address on Wednesday. "I'm not up to date on that," he said, though he did later say that Brady's appeal would go on even though the Patriots dropped their appeal, and that he would welcome hearing directly from Brady.
"Any time anyone is suspended from a game they love, it's difficult. So any player/coach that we're involved with suspending, that decision comes after a great deal of thought and consideration and recognizing that's a difficult decision," Goodell said. "We're very careful with it and we're very thoughtful with it. I have great admiration and respect for Tom Brady, but the rules have to be enforced on a uniform basis and they apply to everybody in the league -- every club, every individual coach, every individual player. We put the game ahead of everyone."
But Goodell's credibility is not exactly at a zenith, and so there is also unease about the opaque decision-making process of league officials in cases such as these, and whether independent investigator Ted Wells' report on the incident is as definitive as Goodell implied it was. Goodell said he "participated in meetings" led by league president Troy Vincent, and seemed to imply that because Vincent came to him with a recommendation on the Patriots' punishment, that Goodell had some justification in hearing an appeal. And there is yet another question as to whether the NFL requested that Patriots employees John McNally and John Jastremski, implicated in Ted Wells' report on the incident, be suspended. (Goodell denied that report, which came from ESPN's usually reliable Adam Schefter.)
All this inherent confusion goes beyond the Patriots situation. There is also the issue of a football team moving to Los Angeles, and how this situation might affect football in several other cities, including Oakland. On Tuesday, Raiders owner Mark Davis addressed several dozen fans camped out front of the Ritz-Carlton, and even Davis didn't seem to know how to answer, telling the fans that the East Bay was his first priority even as the land deal for a proposed $1.7-billion stadium to be shared by the Raiders and Chargers in Los Angeles was being approved.
On Wednesday, NFL vice president Eric Grubman, one of the lead players in the NFL's return to Los Angeles, said that the window for applications could be moved up to late this year, and that a vote could be held in the weeks following next year's regular season. And Goodell said Wednesday he had yet to hear from Oakland about a specific proposal for keeping the Raiders. "I don't know if it's a point of frustration," Goodell said, "but it's certainly a point of information."
It would appear that these two things tend to muddy themselves together under Goodell's watch. The commissioner even implied the most clear-cut change the owners made this week — moving the extra-point back to the 15-yard line — may only be the tip of the iceberg, as the league might consider making further changes next year. At this point, there's no real way of knowing what the future holds, either for the NFL or for Goodell himself.