Roger Goodell had been NFL commissioner for about a month when he stopped into the Soldier Field press box at halftime of a Seahawks game against the Chicago Bears in 2006.
Basically, it was an informal chance to show his face, shake some hands and share some preliminary thoughts.
He was obviously bright and well-prepared and optimistic about the state of the game. He came off as surprisingly human compared to his predecessor, the effective automaton, Paul Tagliabue.
So I asked: What one thing scares you the most about this job?
Without blinking, he had a two-word answer: “The fall.” He said it quickly enough that it was obvious he had given the matter some thought.
The fall? He elaborated that the NFL was an amazing American success story, and more than anything he did not want to be the guy who came along and somehow screwed it up.
Goodell has reached a defining moment. As the league’s collective-bargaining agreement with the players heads toward a March 4 expiration, Goodell made an absolutely crucial first step at his state-of-the-league address Friday.
He stressed the word “urgency.”
“We need to have intensive, round-the-clock negotiations,” he said. “I have that sense of urgency.”
Straight from word to deed, the commissioner and NFLPA representatives got together for a formal meeting the following day.
During the normal course of negotiation brinksmanship, unreasonable demands are volleyed until the 11th hour and nothing is accomplished until it becomes obvious that further delay will cost both sides some serious coin.
The best thing Goodell could do is to convince owners and players that this thing needs to reach two-minute-drill tempo immediately.
Why? Because dragging it out hurts everyone involved. And it will be pointless. This will get solved. Neither side can afford to lose a season.
First, this is not about child labor or human rights or safety for stockyard workers in 1900. There are no matters of principle requiring sacrifice. It’s a matter of divvying great wealth.
Players have such short careers and are famed for being poor managers of money. Some will cave when the next Bentley payment comes due. Owners have a better cushion, but it would take only a week or two of empty stadiums around the country to have them sweating Perrier.
The American public will not tolerate a work stoppage. And, probably of greater fiscal relevance, the networks would place both sides in a vise before it costs them programming time.
So, it will happen.
Goodell even added some personal equity toward a quick settlement. He offered to cut his annual pay to $1 if there’s a lockout. Nice gesture, but the practical effect was that it made me curious to see his normal salary.
About $10 million a year. No misprint. Eight figures.
So, there’s incentive.
By turning the heat up early, it should mean there’s enough time for the obligatory expressions of outrage, and the proper positioning that will leave each side convinced it got a decent deal. Or, more importantly, satisfied that the other side got the raw end.
The owners claim the current division of profits favors the players, but they’re not willing to fully disclose their finances. Want privacy? That will cost you.
The players widely object to the prospect of extending the regular season from 16 games to 18 games as a means to increase revenue. The physical toll is theirs while the profit belongs to the owners.
There is plenty of manicured lawn to serve as middle ground for these sides. Cut the exhibition season to three games and increase the regular season to 17. As incentive, maybe toss an extra “bye” week in there. Players don’t care how many weeks the season lasts, it’s the number of games that count, the number of times their collateral ligaments are exposed.
I’m sure they would appreciate another week to rest and heal. That even enhances the TV package.
Look, this is the league that somehow got away with charging $200 to fans for the right to merely stand outside the stadium in which the Super Bowl was being played. You telling me they need to have a work stoppage to figure out money issues?
It is profitable and successful. But it is not indestructible; and prolonged labor strife is the fastest way to tear it down. That would be “the fall” Goodell feared.
By getting talks into at least Code Orange range early, he’s made a good step. He’s already earned that dollar.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org