Goodell, NFL face moment of truth 

click to enlarge Roger Goodell may face another public reckoning when he comes to San Francisco this week. - EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Evan Agostini/Invision/AP file photo
  • Roger Goodell may face another public reckoning when he comes to San Francisco this week.

If the tipping point hasn't already arrived, maybe it never will. Perhaps Roger Goodell is powerful enough to survive anything, and perhaps he will preside over the National Football League for another decade or two. And perhaps, at some point, he will perform a miracle and reverse both his own tenuous reputation and find a way to ensure the future of a sport whose future is clouded by existential questions about the consequences of its own inherent violence.

But none of this repair work will begin next week. Because next week Goodell will face yet another public reckoning, this time in San Francisco at the league's spring meetings. The three-day event will take place at the moment the New England Patriots have chosen to issue a direct challenge to Goodell's hegemony.

In the next few hours, Goodell will walk into a conference room for the spring event. For the first time, he will enter that room bereft of the support of the man believed to be his closest ally among the NFL's 32 owners. His relationship with the Patriots' Robert Kraft had helped carry him through some of the darkest moments of his tenure, most notably last fall, when Goodell's handling of the Ray Rice incident had much of the nation calling for his firing. Likewise, Goodell was the one who oversaw the Spygate affair, yet another scandal that involved the Patriots, who got off with little more than a slap on the hands, after which the evidence was conveniently destroyed. So close were the two power brokers, one veteran NFL executive referred to Kraft as the "assistant commissioner" in a GQ profile of the league czar.

​But Kraft, who rallied his fellow owners around Goodell in the midst of that crisis by lobbying them to issue public statements of support, is no longer Goodell's ally. Kraft is furious about the commissioner's four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady for reportedly being complicit in the deflation of footballs. Brady and the NFL players association are appealing the suspension, spurred by the somewhat bizarre and catty and largely indeterminate report of criminal attorney Ted Wells. The NFLPA is now issuing a direct challenge to Goodell by asking to call him as a witness in the case, even as Goodell insists on being the arbiter in that same case. Of course, these were the same powers that the union afforded the commissioner's office in the last collective bargaining negotiations, ones in which the players took yet another beating off the field.

"The NFLPA believes that neither Commissioner Goodell nor anyone with close ties to the NFL can serve as arbitrator in Mr. Brady's appeal," the union said in a letter on Friday. "If the Commissioner does not appoint such a neutral arbitrator, the NFLPA and Mr. Brady will seek recusal and pursue all available relief to obtain an arbitrator who is not evidently partial."

At issue, the appeal essentially says, is Goodell's very credibility as commissioner; at issue is the management style of a man who suspended Rice for half the number of games that he suspended Brady. This increasingly appears to be a problem that Goodell cannot escape.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press the NFL planned to change guidelines regarding the way footballs were handled before games.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Friday night because details will be discussed at the owners' meetings.

Rules changes also will be a primary focus at the sitdown, as the owners will be presented with three proposals on how to improve the extra point, which some contend have become too easy.

The owners also will consider three proposals for changing the extra point. The Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and the league's competition committee submitted the proposals. A three-fourths majority of at least 24 owners is needed for passage.

New England has suggested snapping the ball from the 15 for a one-point kick, meaning a 32- or 33-yard conversion, or placing the ball at the 2-yard line for a 2-point try.

Philadelphia proposes snapping from the 15 for the kick, but moving the ball to the 1 for a 2-point conversion. The Eagles also want the defense to be able to score the points if it returns a turnover on the 2-point conversion to the other end zone.

The competition committee offers the same as the Eagles, except the 2-point conversion would come from the 2-yard line.

Kicks are currently from the 2-yard line.

But all eyes will be on Goodell, who will find himself attempting to justify a decision-making process that seems to defy logic or common sense, a process that seems almost deliberately draconian, a process in which he may wind up being both witness and judge. Up close, we will begin see how plugged in the other 31 team owners are to their commissioner if they even listen at all.

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Michael Weinreb

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