Has Roger Goodell Lost His Grip on Reality?

Has Roger Goodell Lost His Grip on Reality?

Roger Goodell is the commissioner of the National Football League. He makes sure the public never loses sight of that fact through the frequent extension of his own authority.

Sure, there are by-laws for every league office, and there are responsibilities every commissioner has associated with his specific sport; but there also seems to be a growing gray area -- especially in the NFL -- related to the limits of a commissioner's power.

The personal conduct policy, the fines for on-field incidents, the NFL Lockout, and the penalties issued to the Saints in light of BountyGate: Goodell has been criticized by fans or players in each and every one of those instances. But at least in those cases, there was the feeling in the back of everyone's mind that the guy knew what he was doing, even if his decisions weren't the most popular.

There was the feeling that he was proceeding in the best interests of the league. 

That he was responding and acting in concert with the will of the owners.

That there was a logic to his judgments.

But this Redskins-Cowboys-Salary-Cap fiasco -- well, now it looks like Goodell and the owners who back him have actually lost it.

Let's recap: the Cowboys and Redskins have been stripped of a combined $46 million (10 for DAL, $36 for WAS) in salary cap space over the next two years as a result of willfully disobeying the league's directives with their actions in the uncapped year.  That said, to the best of anyone's knowledge, neither team broke any rules when they front-loaded new salaries and re-engineered old contracts in the 2010 season to take advantage of the one-time opportunity to exploit the system. 

Indeed, the only rules the teams violated were directives from the league that allegedly laid out guidelines for what teams could and could not spend, could and not do, despite the absence of actual, binding by-laws. The Cowboys and Redskins did violate those directives and have been penalized for it -- even after the league approved every one of the now-suspect contracts in the first place.

Beyond asking whether those teams should or should not be sanctioned (which by the way, they shouldn't), focus instead on the that fact the league has brought scandal upon itself... willfully.

Because now, without any consideration of what's fair or unfair for Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder, every football fan should be asking: if front-loading new contracts and and re-negotiating old deals to take advantage of this one situation made sense this one time (which by the way, it did), why wasn't every team doing it?

See, there's questions about Goodell's power to act as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to handing out fines for on-field hits. And there are clear gaps in logic in the application of the personal conduct policy. And there are compelling arguments that the commissioner's concerns for player safety are rendered hypocritical by his wanting to expand the season to 18 games and his apparent lack of concern for the financial restitution of the players. And there are definitely some fans down in New Orleans right now, and football analysts across the country, who think what happened to the Saints was downright outlandish.

But almost every one of those arguments and questions ultimately falls short of anything truly unreasonable on the grounds that Goodell could always be defended as protecting the brand of the NFL for its owners. Because even if he was "abusing" his power to suspend or fine, there was a sound, even if unpopular, logic behind it.

But this situation with Cowboys and Redskins has outed Goodell. The league's decision to sanction clubs for breaking rules that didn't exist has called every single one of Goodell's other suspect acts fans may have moved past back into question.

Because now, the league office isn't fining or suspending players for being too violent or getting arrested, or coaches and generals managers for breaking rules, it's sanctioning teams for not obeying it's interpretation of it's own authority. And in the process, 28 owners have been exposed for engaging in activities that are being labeled as "collusion" (note: the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders have been cited by the league for lesser infractions).

Maybe it's unfair to pin all this on Goodell. After all, he only serves at the behest of the owners. So whether its just the commissioner, or the commissioner and the league's primary shareholders, its now evident that the powers that be in the NFL have lost touch with the limits of their right to govern.

By sanctioning the Redskins and Cowboys, the NFL has brought scandal upon itself in the name of punishing two franchises out of principle and not rule.

So, no, this might not all be on Goodell. But someone has become so drunk with power that its now harming the shield he's been fighting to protect. And, given his track record, it's hard not to look his way first.

Previously:
>>>Not Over Yet: Collectively Bargaining the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

In the sixth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 6 is Hart to Jones.

Taylor Hart

Roob: No matter how hard the Eagles try, they just can't get rid of Taylor Hart. Chip Kelly drafted Hart in the fifth round in 2014 and then Hart began last season with Kelly in San Francisco before reappearing here later in the season. Hart is going into his fourth NFL season and has 15 games, 12 tackles and no sacks to show for it. He turns 26 next month and has never shown any signs of being a guy who can contribute in a 4-3 defense. I’m going to say he goes, but don't be surprised if he finds his way back onto the roster at some point. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Hart was with the Eagles last training camp but cut him on Sept. 4 and he was claimed by the 49ers and Chip Kelly. Then when the Niners cut him, the Eagles claimed him back and he spent the rest of the season watching the Eagles play football. He was inactive in all but the last game and in that one he didn’t play. Hart is a former fifth-round pick who just fits better in a 3-4. The Eagles already played undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao over him, so it’s time to set him free. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Cap hit: $796K

Roob: Whenever you blast Chip for getting rid of Shady, DeSean and Jeremy Maclin, you have to mention that he did draft Jordan Hicks in the third round. Hicks, in just 24 games, has become one of the most productive playmaking linebackers in Eagles history. With seven interceptions, he already has the 11th-most interceptions in franchise history by a linebacker, and he led all NFL linebackers with five INTs this past season. Only four linebackers in NFL history have had more interceptions in their first two seasons – Hall of Famer Jack Ham is one of them. But Hicks is more than a ballhawk. He’s a smart, heady linebacker who is stout at the point of attack and is already developing into a terrific locker room leader as well. The future is certainly bright for Hicks.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He just finished his second year in the NFL, but Hicks is quickly becoming one of the biggest playmaking linebackers in the league. Through the first 24 games of his career, he has seven interceptions. In his first two years, he has 7 INTs, 4 FRs, 1 FF. He’s the fifth player in NFL history to do that in his first two seasons and he’s the only linebacker. That said, Hicks needs to get better against the run and he knows it. Now that he won’t have an injury to heal from this offseason, he plans on hitting the weight room to get stronger and better at stopping the run. He looks like a cornerstone of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Jenkins had another good year in his third season with the Eagles, although not quite up to his Pro Bowl level of 2015. Jenkins, who turns 30 late next season, is on the books for another four years with some pretty high cap figures — $7.5 million in 2017, then $10 million, $9.75 million and $9.25 million. But as long as Jenkins continues to play at a high level, I don’t see him going anywhere until after the 2018 season at the earliest, when he would count just $3 million in dead money if he’s released. But Jenkins is a guy you'd like to see finish his career in Philly. Hope that happens. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to quantify just how much Jenkins means to the Eagles or how much he’s worth. But it’s a lot. The last two seasons have been the best of his career and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The best Jenkins stat is this: He’s missed just eight defensive snaps since arriving in 2013. Unreal. If the Eagles chose to play him at cornerback last year, he would have probably been their best one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson
Cap hit: $10M

Roob: If he goes, it’ll be because of a third positive drug test. Johnson’s play in the six games he was available to the Eagles was at an All-Pro level. But after two positive tests for banned substances and suspensions of four games in 2014 and 10 games in 2016, he’s now one positive test away from a two-year ban that would essentially end his Eagles career. My gut feeling is Johnson has learned his lesson and won’t take any more chances. That he understands what’s at stake here and isn’t going to risk his career by taking a supplement that hasn’t been pre-tested and cleared. Obviously there are other reasons the Eagles were 5-1 when Johnson played. Those five wins included games against the hapless Browns and Bears and a win against a Cowboys team that wasn’t trying to win. But that said, Johnson’s value is clear. He's a beast. It’s up to Johnson whether he becomes a Pro Bowl offensive tackle or a casualty of the NFL’s substance abuse regulations. I can’t imagine he’ll make the same mistake again.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A lot was made about Johnson’s suspension voiding the guaranteed portion of his contract. And for a week or so, a bunch of fans were calling into talk radio saying the Eagles should cut him. That was laughable. Johnson is still the Eagles’ best offensive player and as long as he stays on the field and plays the way he did in 2016, he’s going to make most of the money in his contract. He obviously deserves plenty of blame for the way last season went, but he’s a big piece of the future. One more suspension and his career is basically over, so the Eagles just have to hope he doesn’t ruin everything.  

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson

Roob: Johnson is an interesting guy. Ran a 4.37 so he has wheels, but he didn’t have much of a career at Texas. Then again, Texas didn’t have a legit quarterback while he was there so maybe there’s a lot of untapped potential. The Eagles are so desperate for help at wide receiver they’ll take a good long look at everybody on the roster, even a guy who bounced off and on the practice squad last year. This Longhorn is a longshot to make the roster, but then again, if he catches the football consistently in training camp he’ll give himself a fighting chance.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The receiver was with the Eagles during training camp and flashed some before getting hurt. He joined the practice squad during the season and was there at season’s end. He’ll be brought to camp but is a longshot to make the roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Donnie Jones
Cap hit: $1.25M

Roob: At 36 years old, the greatest punter in Eagles history (sorry Mat McBriar) showed no signs of slowing down. In his 13th NFL season, Jones averaged 45.8 yards per punt with a 40.7 net – both above his career highs. The most amazing thing about Jones is his knack for dropping punts inside the 20 without hitting very many touchbacks. He had 21 inside the 20 this year with just six touchbacks, and in four seasons with the Eagles he has 117 inside the 20 with just 26 touchbacks. When you don’t have an explosive offense, field position is critical, and Jones is a human field position flipping machine. The Eagles signed him to a three-year extension this year, and he’s now under contract through 2019.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: At times during the last two seasons, Jones has looked like the offense’s best weapon. That’s not a good sign for the offense, but it is for Jones. He’s already the best punter in team history. He’ll be 37 by the time the 2017 season starts, but he just signed a contract and will be the team’s punter for at least a couple more years if everything goes to plan. 

Verdict: STAYS