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Why do NFL owners still back Roger Goodell as commissioner?

Despite controversies, the league is wildly successful, dominating TV ratings and generating about $10 billion in revenue per year.

When Roger Goodell first took over as commissioner, he united all 32 owners with a plan to increase revenue.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press/File 2014

A co-worker on the copy desk asked a question last week that many football fans have asked over the past year:

Why does Roger Goodell still have a job?

Goodell messed up the Ray Rice investigation and punishment, has had the Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Bountygate punishments overturned by outside arbitrators, and now has slogged the league through a controversial and subjective Deflategate investigation that should have been completed months ago.

The NFL is still wildly successful, of course, dominating the fall TV ratings and generating approximately $10 billion in revenue per year (and growing). The yearly financial reports of the Green Bay Packers, released last week, revealed that national revenues — the money from TV contracts and other league-wide ventures — topped $7.2 billion ($226 million per team) in 2014-15, an increase of more than 20 percent from the previous year.


Still, why do the 32 owners continue to stick behind Goodell as commissioner and face of the league? He has become a lightning rod for controversy, and it’s not like Goodell invented the game of football or is the only executive capable of running the league.

But Goodell, signed through the spring of 2019 and only the third commissioner in NFL history, isn’t going anywhere. Several influential owners, from Robert Kraft to Jerry Jones to John Mara to Bob McNair have endorsed Goodell, and if the PR crises of the past year didn’t put his job in jeopardy, nothing will.

What do they see in the guy?

For one, Goodell’s role in navigating the lockout and collective bargaining agreement negotiations in 2011 has a lot to do with his job security. But it really starts five years before that, when Goodell took over from Paul Tagliabue in the spring of 2006.

The owners are making money hand-over-fist now, but nine years ago when Goodell came into office, the owners were complaining nonstop about the labor deal. The owners cried that player costs were too high, and that the league wouldn’t survive under the current structure.


“I think the union did too good a deal last time,” Kraft said in February of 2007. “They overreached, and we’re going to have to recalibrate if we want to keep going.”

When Goodell came into power, NFL ownership was a fractured group between old owners and new owners, big market vs. small market, those who supported Tagliabue (Goodell was his right-hand man) and those who wanted a fresh voice.

But Goodell, formerly the league’s executive vice president and CEO, had an impressive background in all facets of the NFL’s business — supervising all league business operations, marketing and sales, productions, international, stadium development, football operations, and officiating.

As the owners prepared to battle the union over labor, Goodell achieved the not-so-easy task of uniting all 32 owners on the same front. It’s a feat that seems mundane but carries significant weight with the owners.

“The job is like attending 10 weddings at the same time and making every bride and groom feel like they’re the ones,” Kraft said in 2006.

Goodell has the support of some of the league’s most powerful owners, like Robert Kraft.File/Associated Press

The owners disliked the previous CBA so much they opted out of it in May 2008, six months before the deadline. Goodell sent an e-mail to former union chief Gene Upshaw outlining three reasons for the early termination: High labor costs, problems with the rookie wage scale, and the league’s inability to recoup signing bonuses from players who breach their contracts (Michael Vick was allowed to keep $16.5 million in bonus money after pleading guilty to dogfighting).


Now look at the new CBA, signed in July 2011 — Goodell delivered exactly what the owners wanted. Costs have been kept in check thanks to a reduction in total revenues given to players (down from about 50 percent to 47 percent) and rules that prohibit players from reaching free agency until their fourth season. A new rookie wage system has slashed rookie pay nearly in half, and made players drafted beyond the first round a very good bargain. And teams now have the ability to recoup bonus money, as the Patriots have done with Aaron Hernandez. Best of all for the owners, the NFL and union are locked into this CBA until the spring of 2021.

Every team’s business is booming under the new CBA. In 2006, the highest-valued franchise (according to Forbes Magazine) was Washington at $1.4 billion. Nine years later, Forbes values the Cowboys at $3.2 billion, and one of the league’s least-valuable franchises, the Bills, sold for $1.4 billion last year. The Patriots were valued at $1.18 billion in 2006, and now are valued at $2.6 billion.

Top 20 most valuable NFL franchises
Forbes Magazine released the list earlier this month.
Dallas Cowboys
$3.2 billion
New England Patriots
$2.6 billion
Washington Redskins
$2.4 billion
New York Giants
$2.1 billion
Houston Texans
$1.85 billion
New York Jets
$1.8 billion
Philadelphia Eagles
$1.75 billion
Chicago Bears
$1.7 billion
San Francisco 49ers
$1.6 billion
Baltimore Ravens
$1.5 billion
Denver Broncos
$1.45 billion
Indianapolis Colts
$1.4 billion
Green Bay Packers
$1.38 billion
Pittsburgh Steelers
$1.35 billion
Seattle Seahawks
$1.33 billion
Miami Dolphins
$1.3 billion
Carolina Panthers
$1.25 billion
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
$1.23 billion
Tennessee Titans
$1.16 billion
Minnesota Vikings
$1.15 billion
SOURCE: Forbes Magazine

The NFL also has completed three new stadium projects under Goodell’s watch, plus stadiums are on the way in Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles and major renovations were made to another half-dozen stadiums. The NFL has ventured into London, is set to return to Los Angeles, and is creating valuable new revenue streams each year. The NFL was a $6 billion business in 2006, is a $10 billion business now, and hopes to be a $25 billion business by 2025.


And none of that happened by accident — the landmark prosperity started with Goodell uniting the owners at the beginning of his tenure.

The owners paid Tagliabue approximately $10 million per season at the end of his tenure, and Goodell received approximately the same for his first four years on the job. But the owners are so happy with the financial about-face that the league will pay Goodell approximately $300 million over the final seven years of his deal, or about $44 million per season.

Also, consider this: Goodell is paid handsomely not only for the work he did in fixing the league’s finances, but also because he serves as the NFL’s punching bag.

When you think of the NFL’s domestic violence problems, do you think of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, or Vikings owner Zygi Wilf? No. Goodell has taken a disproportionate amount of heat for those situations. Concussions and brain injuries, the lockout, the replacement referees — all of it gets dumped on Goodell, not the owners.

The bad publicity of the last year hasn’t resulted in companies pulling sponsorships or reduced TV ratings. And as long as the owners continue to make gobs of money and Goodell takes the heat for the league’s problems, Goodell isn’t going anywhere.



Their cap has room to grow

With about $10.6 million in cap space, the Patriots have enough to tinker with the bottom of the roster.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File 2014/Globe Staff

A few news and notes on the Patriots as we prepare for training camp Thursday morning in Foxborough:

 The Patriots enter the season with approximately $10.6 million in salary cap space before punter Ryan Allen’s three-year contract extension, according to NFL Players Association records. This gives the Patriots enough space to tinker with the bottom of the roster and sign new free agents throughout the season, and whatever goes unused can be rolled over into next year. Of the 90 players on the roster, 37 are making a league-minimum salary for their experience level.

■  Tom Brady’s supporters were quite fervent this spring. For the first time in his career, Brady led all NFL players in sales of officially licensed merchandise between March 1 and May 31, according to the NFLPA. Brady was No. 1 in sales of Oyo Sports mini-figures, Forever Collectibles bobbleheads, Fatheads and Lids custom player headwear, and was No. 2 in jersey sales and in women’s jersey sales behind 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (side note: Kaepernick? Huh). Rob Gronkowski was 14th on the overall apparel sales list, and Julian Edelman was 35th.

■  Speaking of Brady, Gronk, and Edelman, our spies tell us they met in a park in Newton last week to throw and run some routes. It’s football time, baby.

■  Defensive tackle Dominique Easley, the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2014 (29th overall), has switched agents, filing paperwork with the NFLPA last week to sign on with Wellesley-based agent Sean Stellato of SES Sports, who also represents punter Ryan Allen, safety Nate Ebner, running back Jonas Gray, and defensive tackle Joe Vellano. Changing agents at this point in his career is interesting as Easley, entering his second NFL season, is by rule not allowed to restructure his contract until after the 2016 season at the earliest. He is set to make $751,980 this year in the second-year of a four-year, $7.303 million rookie contract. Easley had 10 tackles, a sack, and an interception in 11 games last year as he returned from an ACL tear, and ended the season on injured reserve. But Easley is healthy and hungry this offseason and eager to take on a bigger role.

■  Thumbing through the Patriots’ 2015 media guide last week, they have two coaching assistants this year (in addition to Steve Belichick, the coach’s son) — Nick Caley and Jerry Schuplinski. Guess where they both went to college? That’s right, John Carroll University in the Cleveland suburbs, the same school attended by Nick Caserio and Josh McDaniels.

■  The Patriots also didn’t include assistant equipment manager John Jastremski, he of Deflategate fame, in the media guide. But Jastremski’s status hasn’t changed — he remains suspended indefinitely, as does game-day locker room attendant Jim McNally (who has never been listed in the media guide because he is a part-timer).


Seahawks’ Okung representing himself

Ed Zurga/Associated Press/File 2014/Associated Press

Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung won’t be making any friends in the NFL agent community, but he wrote a fascinating piece for The Players’ Tribune website last week entitled “Betting on Myself,” explaining why he will eschew an agent next year when he hits free agency and attempt to negotiate the contract himself, with an attorney to look over the paperwork.

“Did a 2.5 percent agent fee really make sense in relation to the amount of work that was being done?” Okung wrote. “Did I, entering the final year of my rookie contract and what I believe will be the prime of my career, really need someone else to tell me my worth and not only “find me a deal,” but take a cut of it?”

“I know my worth. I can look at the market and go directly to a team without an agent and tell that team my worth. And I can do so with confidence because I’ve done my research, I’ve educated myself and I’ve questioned the answers I’ve been given.”

Kudos to Okung for taking responsibility for his livelihood and not blindly entrusting his career to someone else. At the same time, Okung is rare as an NFL player — talented enough to have leverage in contract negotiations (wrapping up a six-year, $48.5 million contract after being drafted No. 6 overall in 2010) and financially savvy enough to do his own research and understand the market.

As Okung acknowledged, the majority of NFL players are fringe types who are playing year-to-year and need agents who have front-office contacts throughout the league to get them tryouts and find them a good spot on an NFL roster. Agents also have contacts in marketing and finance and can help lesser-known players find endorsement deals. And most young football players don’t have a good grasp of finance, contract negotiations, retirement savings, and so on.

But four drafted players this year opted to represent themselves instead of signing with an agent — including No. 9 overall pick Ereck Flowers — and Okung is now leading that charge for veteran players.


Peterson, Vikings deal is misleading

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press/File 2015

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The three-year “contract restructure” done by the Vikings and Adrian Peterson, which gave Peterson “$20 million in guaranteed money,” is not quite what it seems. Although the contract will pay Peterson $42 million over the next three years, it’s really a year-to-year deal with only 2015 guaranteed, as the Vikings can release Peterson before the third day of the 2016 and 2017 league years with no financial or salary cap penalty. Peterson will make $13 million in 2015, then $11 million and $18 million the next two seasons if he sticks around. His previous deal had three years and $45 million left, but no guaranteed money.

Training camp

Football is finally back, with the Vikings and Steelers reporting to work on Saturday (they will play in the Hall of Fame preseason game in Canton, Ohio) and the other 30 teams hitting the field later in the week. Interestingly, 20 teams will hold training camp at their normal practice facilities, while only 12 will take it on the road to a college campus or other facility. By comparison, in 2000, only five teams held training camp at home.

But three teams have maintained a strong tradition of taking camp on the road. The Packers are entering their 58th season at Saint Norbert College, while the Vikings (Minnesota State) and Steelers (Saint Vincent College) enter their 50th seasons at their current camp sites.

Extra points

In a profile in Sports Illustrated last week, cornerback Darrelle Revis revealed he had a dreaded microfracture surgery in 2012 when he also tore his ACL, and he briefly contemplated retirement. No wonder the Patriots didn’t want to give him $39 million fully guaranteed in contract negotiations this past spring . . . Marcus Mariota and the Titans reportedly met halfway, with the sides agreeing on “partial offset language” in case Mariota is a total bust and is released before his four-year contract expires. Good to see common sense prevailed over stubbornness . . . Washington’s plan to deliver injury news to season ticket-holders before it goes to the NFL, media, and regular fans — as outlined by team president Bruce Allen last week – is, frankly, pathetic. It’s a cheap ploy to get fans to download the team’s mobile app, and presents potential gambling issues with certain fans getting inside information before everyone else. But what else would we expect from Dan Snyder and Co., who a decade ago gave a hard sell on a $125,000 luxury suite to former offensive lineman Ross Tucker (making $300,000) while he was trying to make the team.

They’re catches

Wide receivers Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas signed five-year, $70 million contract on July 15, a reward for five seasons of tormenting opposing secondaries. Both have piled up yards at a pace that puts them in select company. Here’s how their statistics stack up to the first five years of the top 10 wideouts in career receiving yards:

Compiled by Michael Grossi

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.