NFL owners gathering to discuss deflating commissioner's authority on discipline

Has Roger Goodell pushed NFL owners too far? After a stunning and embarrassing court loss in the Deflategate scandal involving Tom Brady, it looks like the league’s owners want to make a change — one that players will also welcome:

Owners of NFL teams plan to discuss the possibility of changing Commissioner Roger Goodell’s role in the player disciplinary process, several people familiar with the situation said Friday.

Although it’s uncertain whether Goodell’s authority would be reduced, the decision to reevaluate his role resolving appeals is the first solid sign the outcome of Tom Brady’s court case could have a lasting and significant impact on his position. …

Another person familiar with the league’s inner workings said Friday it is too soon to know whether enough owners favor such a change for the NFL to engage the players’ union in discussions about possible modifications to the disciplinary process. The players union has been pushing for a neutral arbitrator to hear appeals in matters of player discipline, replacing Goodell, who currently occupies that role.

The Washington Post’s Mark Maske chalks this up mainly to Goodell’s aborted attempt to sideline one of the league’s most popular players, but this started more than a year ago. Goodell suspended Baltimore running back Ray Rice for two games after a domestic violence incident, only to reopen the case and indefinitely suspend Rice after video emerged of the incident.  Critics ripped Goodell for his arbitrary and clumsy handling of the case, and the Ravens — who fired Rice after the suspension — reportedly ended up on the hook for most of Rice’s contract.

This court loss probably was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Courts have long kept an arms-length distance in these kinds of disputes, especially when arbitration is involved, but the judge’s opinion made minced meat of Goodell’s handling of this investigation as well. Owners were already unhappy with Goodell’s reactionary approach to discipline, and the loss would have to be pretty embarrassing. With the players union already threatening action in 2020 at the end of the current collective bargaining agreement, clipping Goodell’s wings was inevitable. And if it’s inevitable, the owners must believe that it’s better to do it now when they have control of the process, and to do it while Goodell’s ears are still ringing from the boxing that the judge just gave him.