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Does Goodell have full authority to settle Brady case on his own?

Judge Richard M. Berman has directed Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to attend Wednesday’s proceedings in court, which will include both a settlement conference and, if the case isn’t settled, oral arguments on the merits of whether Brady’s suspension should be upheld or scrapped. Ostensibly, Goodell and Brady possess the ultimate authority to settle the case.

As the event approaches, some wonder whether Goodell truly has the power to resolve the case without making one or more phone calls to one more owners.

This is a different question than whether Arbitrator Roger Goodell was being lobbied, influenced, and/or pressured by owners while Brady’s appeal was pending. The question now is whether Commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to bind the NFL to a settlement of an official, final suspension without consulting with the members of the NFL Management Council’s executive committee.

Throughout the labor negotiations of 2011, the Commissioner was joined by the CEC, a group of 10 owners who were directly involved in talks that culminated in a new labor deal. Even if those 10 owners are currently ready to get a phone call with a recommendation from Goodell on a potential settlement after Goodell gets his arm twisted by Judge Berman, that’s no substitute for the 10 owners getting their arms collectively twisted by Judge Berman.

It’s a dynamic that lawyers with claims against large businesses commonly confront. When it’s time to try to settle the case, the representative of the large business who has been sent to session lacks the ability to close the deal without calling someone who isn’t present. Ideally, the person(s) who would need to be called by the representative of the company are the ones who need to be present.

Given that Judge Berman already has scheduled a second settlement conference in this case, that’s one of the issues that possibly needs to be addressed today, if the case isn’t worked out. If Goodell needs to consult with the CEC before settling the case beyond whatever bottom-line authority from them that he brings to court, next week’s effort to clunk heads until the case settles should include a lot more heads from the NFL’s side.