Roger Goodell’s year began with a rich contract extension in January, a reward from NFL owners for the 10-year collective bargaining agreement he helped complete and for the blockbuster business that followed.
But in the 11 months since, Goodell has been more lightning rod than object of praise, buffeted by criticism of his handling of issues, including player safety, a bounty investigation and the lockout of game officials, whose replacements were widely derided. While the NFL continues to boom – its games have been the top two television shows in all but one of the first 15 weeks of the season (ranking third once); and its stadiums are at 98 percent capacity this season – so, too, does the drama.
In the past year, the number of former players suing the league in concussion-related lawsuits rose sharply and now stands, by one count, at more than 4,000. The players’ union filed a collusion complaint against the NFL. Last week, Paul Tagliabue, Goodell’s mentor and predecessor as commissioner, vacated the discipline that Goodell had imposed on players in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty case.
The decision by Tagliabue was a surprising, public setback for Goodell. That led to a stinging critique from Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who said Goodell had “little to no credibility” with players. It was perhaps a self-interested overstatement but indicative, nonetheless, that Goodell’s relationship with at least a segment of NFL players has deteriorated.
Goodell’s reaction to Brees, during an interview in his office Thursday, was a snapshot of how he has publicly handled much of the backlash this year. “I keep doing my job,” he said. Then he shrugged.
John Mara, the president of the New York Giants, said he joked with Goodell that “that’s why you get the big bucks.” As the NFL prepares in the coming days to set its playoff schedule, and Goodell retains the strong support of the league’s owners, he reflected on his contentious year first by laughing at the idea that it has been more dramatic than others.
“Bigger than the year before?” he said, referring to dealing with a preseason lockout. “In the NFL there are always challenges. I think that’s part of our success.”
He added: “I think we’ve been clear on looking long-term. I think it’s been in some ways over the last few years typically unpredictable.”
JAGUARS ACTIVATE LB SMITH FROM IR
The Jacksonville Jaguars have activated linebacker Daryl Smith from injured reserve and placed safety Dwight Lowery on IR with a foot injury.
Smith likely will start today’s game against New England.
Smith missed the first 14 games of the season because of a groin injury. He was placed on IR on Oct. 25, with the designation to return. He returned to practice a couple of weeks ago and was cleared to play this week.
BENCHED JETS QB SANCHEZ MUM ON FUTURE
Mark Sanchez knows he won’t be the New York Jets’ starting quarterback today.
Beyond that, the one-time face of the franchise won’t say whether he thinks he’ll be back with the team next season.
“I really haven’t even thought about it,” Sanchez said Friday. “Honestly, I’m a Jet. That’s all I’ve known.”
Sanchez struggled mightily Monday night in a 14-10 loss at Tennessee, throwing four interceptions. Coach Rex Ryan decided Tuesday to have Greg McElroy start the game today against San Diego.