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NFL's most interersting influencers: Goodell, ref boss top list

Robert Kraft is the model for top-flight ownership in the NFL.  (USATSI)
Robert Kraft is the model for top-flight ownership in the NFL. (USATSI)

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The NFL is a big machine, brimming with influential people who impact the game. Here's a look at my top 10 influencers -- some on Park Ave, some on the sidelines and others on the field.

1. Commissioner Roger Goodell: The Commissioner influences just about every aspect of the NFL. Discipline seems to put him on the firing line but he also has a lot to do with the relationship with the NFLPA, the 32 owners and the media partners. Goodell not only is the face of the league, but also its heartbeat.

2. NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino: The product on the field is how the NFL is judged, and the officials control how the game is played. Blandino is the man in charge of the officials and is responsible for the game being officiated fairly and consistently.

3. Patriots owner Robert Kraft: The league's most influential owner serves on many committees, can sway owners to act in a unified manner and was very visible during the CBA negotiations. From the success of his franchise to how to get a stadium built, Kraft is the model for top-flight ownership.

4. Judge Anita Brody: Brody is overseeing the NFL's issues in the concussion settlement. She approved a landmark deal that would compensate thousands of former players for health-related issues.

5. Eagles coach Chip Kelly: He's incorporated a new faster tempo for the game to be played, as well as innovative ways to train and utilize nutrition. With no previous NFL coaching experience he led the Eagles to the division title in his first year.

6. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: Built a Super Bowl championship team the old-fashioned way, with great defense and a big-time running game. In an era that appears to point at wide-open offenses and a $20 million quarterback as the only way to win, Carroll defies that logic. Many teams spent the offseason studying everything about Seattle's program.

7. League scheduling exec Howard Katz: He's the point man on developing the NFL schedule. In a league where 8-8 can get you fired and 9-7 gets you into the playoffs, the schedule can be the difference. Incorporating byes, Thursday Night Football games as well as Sunday and Monday night issues and road schedules is a year-round job and club success is in the balance.

8. NFL director of football operations Troy Vincent: Vincent oversees player fines and suspensions. He also will have a significant influence on any issues that protect the NFL brand.

9. Patriots QB Tom Brady: From his on-field success, Super Bowls and his contract, I could make a case that Brady, not Goodell, is the face of the league. Whatever contract he signs becomes the benchmark for all of the top player contracts in the league. As one GM says: "If it's good enough for Brady, it's good for any player." On the field he seems to be able to win with any players the club provides. Rarely does he have elite receivers, yet no team has run more plays than the Patriots over the past six years. From his top-flight no-huddle attack to his 83-14 home record and his 18-8 postseason record, he is the player with the most influence in the league.

10. Colts QB Andrew Luck: Luck represents the league's future and his next contract likely will be the largest in history. He is already in the discussion of elite QBs, and every young player will work off his deal. NFL owners will be spending millions of extra money on their quarterbacks over the next 10 years because of Andrew Luck.

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