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NFL may have to pivot to a traditional CEO, post-Goodell

Peter King explains why he is encouraged by the Browns next season, ranking the team No. 4 in his FMIA power rankings, but also believes it’ll be a true test to see how the team manages high expectations.

Peter King’s latest Football Morning in America leads with a question regarding the remaining tenure of Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose fifteenth anniversary on the job arrives later this summer.

Goodell has made it clear he’s not planning on walking away any time soon. When former league P.R. chief Joe Lockhart suggested that Goodell’s latest contract (which runs through 2023) would be his last, Goodell disagreed. (Not long after that, Lockhart was gone.)

King thinks Goodell will stick around through the 2024 or 2025 season. Frankly, I’d bet the over. Goodell’s entire career before becoming Commissioner was focused on one thing: Becoming Commissioner. If he retires, what else is he going to do? Where will he get his fulfillment? He definitely doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who finds comfort in doing nothing, and he’s healthy and fit. Why couldn’t he stay into his 70s, or beyond?

Whenever he goes, the league will face an important pivot point. Gambling, in the coming years, will push the value of most if not all franchises into the range of $10 billion. That would make the NFL a $320 billion enterprise. At some point, the league office can’t be managed like an oversized mom-and-pop store with the next Commissioner coming from the ranks of whoever knows the business best, whoever has paid the dues, whoever has gotten himself or herself in position to become the next in line.

As one owner suggested it a few years back, at some point the league becomes too big for a traditional Commissioner. At some point, the league needs a CEO. Someone who specializes not in football but in running major corporations, because that’s essentially what the NFL is -- and will continue to be.

Then, the CEO can have on his or her executive team a COO and/or a V.P. of football operations who knows the business intimately and, in past decades, would have been the Commissioner.

It’s an issue that won’t become relevant for the NFL until Goodell leaves. It will become very relevant for ownership when the time comes to find the next Commissioner. By then, it may be time for the Commissioner to be not the best available executive in professional football but the best available executive for professional football, from wherever the NFL can find that person.