Ten-Point Stance: Goodell risks legacy over official mess with replacements

by | National NFL Insider
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The NFL and the referees union have been in intense discussions over the past four days -- some in person, some of those talks over the telephone. One semi-constant presence at the meetings has been Roger Goodell.

According to various sources, Goodell has been professional and engaged. But one person familiar with the talks also described Goodell this way: as a passenger on a train controlled by NFL owners.

"I think if Roger had final say, this thing would have been settled months ago," said one source close to the situation. "But the owners are driving this and all Roger can do is watch and do what they want."

And that is the problem. That is the problem that is crushing Goodell's legacy.

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I know Roger Goodell. I like Roger Goodell. Good human being. But because Goodell refuses to tell the extremist owners intent on union-busting that their approach is wrong, we've reached this point, where under his commissionership, the NFL's credibility is being atomized because of greed and pure stupidity.

And the owners, many of whom are faceless to most fans, will escape harm from their decision to fight a senseless fight with game officials, while Goodell's credibility and legacy are obliterated. And make no mistake, unfortunately, that's what's happening. Goodell has preached safety and fined players hundreds of thousands of dollars -- all under the umbrella of wanting to make the game safer.

But under that same umbrella has been this referee abomination. Ex-Lingerie Football League clowns presiding over a game that quickly devolved into 1950s football where anything goes. Cheating, chop-blocking, punches to the head like this is Muay Thai -- only thing missing is Deacon Jones and the head slap.

The two cannot co-exist. You cannot have men and women that ref'd models in their underwear and Division II fullbacks now officiate the greatest, fastest athletes on the planet, and say you care about legacy.

This isn't all Goodell's fault. He's at the mercy of the owners, but this era in football will go down as one of the more contentious in its history, and who do you think will get the blame for that? Jerry Jones? 'Jerrah' will laugh his ass off en route to the Caymans to cash his checks. Goodell will be left holding this pile of steaming crap, his legacy ailing.

The reason for this mess is shared, with the owners deserving much of the blame, but the public only sees Goodell. Proof of this is ESPN reported that 70,000 voicemails were left for Goodell overnight. They weren't left for Woody Johnson.

In the end, to prevent his legacy from ending up at the bottom of the Hudson, Goodell needs to stand up to the owners. He works for them but he's not an automaton. He's not a slave. Again, good man. Smart man. But you save your legacy and the league by telling the owners to stop being hard liners and get this done.

If the owners refuse, you threaten to resign. If they still refuse, you resign. You go. You get the (expletive deleted) out of this league so you can look yourself in the mirror.

If player safety really means a great deal to Goodell, as I suspect it really does, he needs to put up or shut up. You tell the owners to stop acting like this is a plutocracy, demanding the serf players just eat cake and shut up. If the owners don't listen, you bounce.

I know Goodell's counterpart, DeMaurice Smith, has told some of the most powerful players in the sport to pipe down or that they were dead wrong. Goodell needs to do the same.

This is a chance for Goodell to both save the image of the league and his legacy by standing up to the owners.

Professional football has survived the Great Depression, World Wars, Vietnam, recessions, Rich Kotite, terror attacks, strikes, lockouts and numerous other afflictions, and it will survive this. But this is a pivotal moment both for the league and a good man in a brutal spot.

It's so bad right now that one of the NFL's players did something on Tuesday the league should have. "I have to do something the NFL isn't going to do," said Aaron Rodgers on Milwaukee's 540 AM. "I have to apologize to the fans."

Classy move. It's something each and every owner should do.

And if the owners continue to behave like chieftains and treat everyone else like suckers, then Goodell has just one choice.

Leave.

2. This is a special edition of Ten-Point Stance. It's the fake ref addition with all the latest news, anecdotes and issues from the referee lockout. First, two quick replacement ref stories from two players who asked not to be identified. They are interesting, they are funny.

Remember when LeSean McCoy said a replacement ref made a joking remark about McCoy being on the fake ref's fantasy team? Another player on another team said a replacement ref made a similar joke telling the player to pass along a message to that player's teammate to produce more receiving yardage for his fantasy team. The player made sure to say the ref was kidding but, still, wow.

3. Second example: Different replacement ref in different game remarked to a different player, "Say hi to your brother." The player doesn't have a brother.

4. The latest news is this: union and league officials met on Tuesday continuing what has been essentially four days of talks. Goodell and league attorney Jeff Pash are in attendance. That is good news and it remains possible a deal is struck by the end of the week. However, the league, I'm told, doesn't want a deal done too quickly, as to not appear like they capitulated under the pressure of the ugliness from Monday night. Stay tuned.

5. Player to me minutes after the Monday Night Monstrosity: "Our league is the joke of the country now."

6. The most talked about thing in the Green Bay locker room, according to a player on the team: the concern that at the end of the season, this game will cost them a playoff spot. It's definitely possible that could happen. The Packers have a brutal schedule and there's a solid chance Green Bay could be among a pack of teams at the end of the year bunched at .500. Conversely, it's possible Seattle gets into the postseason because of that win.

7. Locked out official to me: "None of the real officials are gloating. This is a sad, sad thing we're seeing."

8. If a deal isn't struck by the end of the week, don't be surprised if players around the league stage some form of small protest, like not appearing for the coin toss.

9. When a world leader weighs in on a sports issue, as President Barack Obama did on the replacement refs, you know this has reached DefCon 1 status.

10. How this will end … my guess is that the debacle on Monday night will soften, somewhat, the owners' stance on the pensions. That's the issue. The pensions. The NFL wants to get rid of them for a more modern system and refs do not. Now, real compromise will come. The refs will continue to give, the owners will finally negotiate, and a middle will be reached. My guess: Friday afternoon or sometime over this weekend a deal will be reached.

What Monday did was take away the stubbornness of the owners. They have to negotiate now. They can't just sit back and try to wait for the locked out officials to crumble.

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