Goodell's handling of Pryor a low-cost reminder of who's in charge

by | Columnist

With all the consternation over Roger Goodell's decision to carry the NCAA's water in the Terrelle Pryor case, one thought kept nagging at me -- why he would extend himself here, on this case, for this reason.

Oh, the NFL had its stated reason, the sanctity of the supplemental draft, and the sound of the laugh track that exploded when they used that one will haunt those who heard it for years to come.

But then it occurred to your author that maybe this wasn't about anything as complicated as the critics were making it seem. Maybe it was just the Big Redhead moving the players off the plate.

Yes, maybe it was just a purpose pitch, to show everyone that the thing that made Goodell popular among his true constituency, the 32 owners, is still a powerful weapon in his arsenal. Player discipline.

It was his calling card early in his tenure. He would be the cop who walked the beat rather than drive through it. He would find the miscreants and show them who the new boss was. And the owners loved it, and certainly the fans did. The players didn't, but they had no power to resist, because Goodell was also the judge and the appeals court.

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Nice gig if you can get it.

But there hadn't been a player fall afoul of whatever it is you fall afoul of to get noticed in the NFL since the new CBA had been done, and Goodell couldn't walk around saying, "We made peace! We made peace!" forever.

Pryor, though, was an interesting test case because Big Red had some jurisdictional issues. Pryor actually hadn't broken any NFL rules, and wasn't an employee in any event. In short, he was applying for a job, and Goodell couldn't really contrive a reason to let him be part of the supplemental draft. But he could rap his knuckles on his way inside, so he did.

This caused much howling from the nation's punditocracy, as it seemed Goodell was acting as the extradition judge the NCAA and Ohio State needed and couldn't find. And since the NCAA is about as credible these days as a street vendor with a coat full of cellphones, Goodell finishing their fight with Pryor seemed excessive, unnecessary and potentially illegal.

Potentially, anyway. We don't know all the ins and outs of labor law.

Neither Pryor nor the NFLPA is putting up a fight, though his lawyer promised an appeal which since has been dropped. So we wonder, conspiracy addict that we are, if in fact the NFL didn't have something on Pryor that makes him wary of a fight. We have no basis to make such a claim other than trying to make this seemingly round peg commingle with that seemingly square hole.

So we're going with the simpler and more understandable reason for Goodell to do as he did -- because he could. And because he wanted to get back in the game of telling the employees what's what, and who's who.

A suspension for dramatic effect.

The supplemental draft is the NFL's backyard tool shed. Pryor is, by many pro analysts' evaluations, not predicted for quarterbacking greatness. In short, Goodell is making a stand against a player without an obvious or huge upside in defense of the league's cellar door of player entry.

And he aligned himself with the league's free training pool at a time when it has never been more under siege, or more accurately, under shame. And maybe that's it. Maybe he threw his friends in Indianapolis a solid for their years of loyal service, in hopes of maintaining the pricing structure -- send them to us without a bill. Hard to argue against that kind of cost/benefit analysis.

And what did it cost Goodell? Some finger-wagging from people he already has little to do with? Please. That's like chastising a guy who has just offended neighbors he doesn't like. In short, a profound non-deterrent, and nobody else apparently caring enough to object.

The NFL's player discipline model in a nutshell: "Yeah? So what're you gonna do about it?"

In this case, nothing. Goodell got back in the game, and ended up without a scratch, unless you want to count a few folks shaking their fists at him in impotent rage and saying, "Why we oughta ... "

Against which he gets to be the uber-cop again, not just for current employees but for future and non-employees as well. Who wouldn't make that trade?

Surely not this commissioner. He had a point to make and he made it, and it was this: He's back on the job, and the job is good because nobody ever tells him to stop.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay


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