Patriots

Curran: Six more years of Goodell doing their bidding is just what owners wanted

Curran: Six more years of Goodell doing their bidding is just what owners wanted

Roger Goodell turns 59 in February and this week NFL owners approved a contract for him that will keep Goodell running the NFL until 2023 when he’s 65.

By then, Goodell will have served a longer term as commissioner than his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue.

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Like Tagliabue, Goodell may never get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The hammer used annually to beat down the candidacy of the scholarly and dignified Tagliabue is that he not only dismissed the long-term threats of concussions, he actively worked to make sure players didn’t get the best treatment or information.

In 1994, Tagliabue bowed to pressure from New York Jets owner Leon Hess and put the Jets team doctor Elliott Pellman – a rheumatologist – in charge of concussion studies and protocol.

Tagliabue explained his decision, saying, “Hess said that [Pellman] was a hard worker, he was highly intelligent, he was a good organizer and he could work effectively with coaches and players and he was willing to stand up for the medical point of view and not be cowed. So I put Dr. Pellman in charge, knowing what his specialties were. It was truly based on track record that these men had with their teams and what I thought they could help us accomplish with internal change.”

That’s the job in a nutshell, isn’t it? You get paid a silly amount of money and get to pretend you’re in charge but really, the NFL Commissioner is the owner’s patsy and fall guy. Owners with the most sway are the ones with the biggest stores of money and seniority that own teams in vital markets with massive fanbases. Those are the ones that whisper in the commissioner’s ear and make him do his bidding.

So, Hess set up Tagliabue with Pellman and the concussion millstone is going to keep Tagliabue out of Canton. Tags can ruminate on that while looking out on whatever amazing view he now surveys in retirement.

Goodell’s reign will probably end the same. He’ll make more money in his 17 seasons as commissioner than Tom Brady will in 20 years as the best quarterback in the game. But the fat stacks of money will be part of the broader problem with Goodell’s image. 

The mom-and-pop NFL presided over by the league’s first commissioner, Pete Rozelle, and Tagliabue was an old boy’s network in which the game itself was sanctified and the owner’s – with the exception of Al Davis – got along. The graft, string-pulling and Machiavellian moves were ignored by the media or kept out of sight. Protecting the golden goose seemed to be the priority.

Goodell’s installment was about making the goose as fat as possible. And he’s succeeded. The NFL’s salary cap in 2006 was $102 million. Now it’s almost $170M. The Patriots were worth $1.4 billion in 2006. They are worth $3.7B now.

The goose has cholesterol issues now. And hypertension.

On Goodell’s watch, the NFL brand, respect for the league’s decision-making and the public opinion of most NFL owners has taken a massive nosedive.

From Spygate to the 2010 and 2011 CBA mudwrestle to the 2012 NFL officials strike, Bountygate and Bullygate to the concussion settlement, to Deflategate to the abject mismanagement of domestic violence investigations, Goodell has made it so that whenever he utters his favorite word –  “integrity” – gales of laughter ensue.

The NFL is less interesting and its product is less watchable than the NBA’s.

It’s hard to consume a game without mental intrusion on myriad fronts – player safety, officiating, declining level of play, which player is just back from which suspension/scandal, replay confusion. When a clean and competitive game ends, there’s a feeling of welcome surprise. “Well, that was enjoyable for a change.”

Ironically, as the debate over Goodell’s extension came into view thanks to Jerry Jones, Goodell was actually in the process of doing a laudable job of negotiating player protests during the national anthem.

Even if his ultimate aim was to get players to cut the crap so his owners would stop screaming in his ear, even if the NFL ultimately tried to buy off player compliance by writing a check, Goodell actually walked through the minefield pretty deftly. 
He didn’t point any bayonets at players and make demands. He didn’t puff out his chest and act like he had the answers. It was unique in that, this time, it wasn’t Goodell who came out looking like a dolt.

But between now and 2023, Goodell’s going to have to go on a diplomatic spree to clean up his legacy. Owners are openly warring, TV ratings are stagnant or falling, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out in 2021 and Goodell is still a Grade A bungler when it comes to investigations and discipline because of the boobs he’s surrounded himself with over the years.
His approval rating is approaching single digits.

And as of this week, the NFL signed up for six more years of the guy. They say you get what you pay for. In the case of NFL owners, they paid for a patsy instead of a leader. Someone who’d make them money, settle their scores and keep his mouth shut about where the league’s bodies are buried, That’s what they wanted. That’s what they’ve gotten.  

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Steelers lock up AFC North with 39-38 win over Ravens

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Steelers lock up AFC North with 39-38 win over Ravens

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier was everywhere. His helmet rested on the Pittsburgh Steelers' bench. His jersey too. His face and #Shalieve stitched on specially-designed cleats. His familiar No. 50 printed in white in the middle of a gold circle on T-shirts worn by teammates searching for a way to let Shazier know he is never far from their mind as he recovers from a spinal injury that put the linebacker's blossoming career in jeopardy.

Shazier may never play football again. That doesn't make him any less of a Steeler. And the men who have taken so much from him over the last three-plus years decided it was time they gave him something back in return: the AFC North title he ordered them to lock down without him.

Chris Boswell made a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left and Pittsburgh's defense overcame a shaky night without their most dynamic player to shut down Baltimore's last-gasp drive and hold on for a 39-38 victory on Sunday night to capture their third division title in the last four years.

"We are riding with that guy," head coach Mike Tomlin said of Shazier. "He is strong. He is strengthening us."

Looked like it.

The Steelers (11-2) trailed by 11 points going into the fourth quarter but capped an emotionally draining week to rally for their eighth straight victory, one they couldn't wait to share with Shazier, who joined the giddy postgame celebration via Facetime.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to top 500 yards passing three times. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, including two long gains in the fourth quarter that allowed the Steelers to recover after blowing an early 14-point lead. Le'Veon Bell had 125 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns .

"We can win a shootout against anybody," Bell said. "I feel like we can score points whenever we need to."

Good thing, because Pittsburgh might have to. The Ravens (7-6) rolled up 414 yards against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense and recovered from a slow start to score on five consecutive drives and six out of seven to take a 38-29 lead on Javorius Allen's second touchdown with 6:44 left.

Not much time against most teams. Far too much against the Steelers.

Roethlisberger and Brown, who is mounting a legitimate MVP candidacy, hooked up on a 57-yard connection set up an 11-yard sprint by Bell with 3:29 to go. The Steelers forced the Ravens into a three-and-out and Roethlisberger calmly led Pittsburgh within field goal range, including a 34-yard lob down the sideline to Brown that set up Boswell's winner.

Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw for 269 yards passing with two touchdowns and one interception but was strip-sacked by rookie linebacker T.J. Watt on the Ravens' final snap.

"This one hurts," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We lose to them the same way we did last year. This one sucks, but we've got to get over it. Yeah, this one's going to hurt but it's best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out there's a good chance we'll be in (the playoffs)."

Shazier, who's been in the hospital since injuring his spine in the first quarter of last week's victory over Cincinnati, told his teammates to finish the work he helped start. Even as they celebrated an important step in a journey they hope will carry them deep into the postseason, they were making plans to keep Shazier involved, starting with a late-night trip to the hospital to deliver him his AFC North champions' swag.

"We are going to give him the hat and T-shirt tonight," good friend and fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams said.

When someone mentioned visitor's hours were probably over, Williams repeated "tonight." Then, it was home to rest before preparing for a showdown with New England next Sunday.

"That's the crazy part about the NFL, things constantly change and you've got to keep rolling," Williams said. "So you've got to find a way to roll with the punches even though it may be a haymaker, got to find a way to recover."

HONORING SHAZIER

Linebacker James Harrison took to the field shirtless during warmups even as temperatures hovered in the low-30s, a nod to one of Shazier's pregame rituals. When Roosevelt Nix drilled Moore on the opening kickoff, Nix lifted his jersey to show the T-shirt most of the Steelers wore at some point during the night.

BRING ON THE PATS

The Steelers fell to New England in a one-sided loss in the AFC championship game 10 months ago. They're not exactly intimidated by the prospect of facing Tom Brady and company.

"You act like they're coming in with Kryptonite, Superman and Batman and Avatars and stuff," Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey said. "Heck yeah, it's a regular football game, what do you mean? We're going to go out there, tackle the football and run the football."

UP NEXT

Ravens: Visit winless Cleveland next Sunday. Baltimore beat the Browns 24-10 on Sept. 17.

Steelers: Will try to beat Brady and New England for the first time since 2011 next Sunday.

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