Goodell Seen as Favorite to Head NFL

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y., July 28 -- As the search committee that has screened NFL commissioner candidates prepares to reduce the field to four or five finalists, there is strong sentiment within the league that the votes are in place for Roger Goodell, the NFL's chief operating officer, to succeed the retiring Paul Tagliabue.

Several people familiar with the deliberations of the league's team owners said in recent days they believe that Goodell has the necessary support to be elected when the owners meet in Chicago for three days beginning Aug. 7. It takes at least 22 votes among the 32 teams for a commissioner to be selected.

"From all that I've heard, I still think it's Roger," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy with which the league is conducting the search.

Several sources said there has been little opposition raised to Goodell. One source said it's possible that Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who voted against the league's labor and revenue-sharing settlements in March, will oppose Goodell because of resentment about the way the league handled those negotiations. But there has not been any sort of organized campaign among the owners to undermine Goodell's candidacy.

Goodell has been viewed as the front-runner since Tagliabue announced in March that he planned to retire this summer. The league has prospered under Tagliabue, and Goodell has been Tagliabue's top lieutenant.

The owners were briefed by the eight-owner search committee during a three-hour meeting Monday in Detroit, and were told that there were 11 candidates. The members of the search committee have interviewed all 11 candidates since then, and now are in discussions about paring the field to the finalists who will be presented to the other owners in Chicago. The finalists are to be on hand at that meeting to give presentations to the owners and answer their questions.

League counsel Jeff Pash also appears to be a strong candidate to be among the finalists, and the group likely will include a candidate or two from outside the league. The search committee has kept the identities of its outside candidates secret, refusing to even give the names to the other owners during Monday's meeting.

One person close to the search cautioned that anything can happen whenever the owners gather in a room to vote, and there could be a backlash against Goodell in the same way there was a backlash when the owners chose Tagliabue over the search committee's pick, New Orleans Saints General Manager Jim Finks, in 1989. But the person added that the chances of that have been reduced because Tagliabue gave all the owners input into how this search was conducted, and expressed the belief that Goodell likely will be elected in Chicago.

Staff writer Leonard Shapiro contributed to this report from Washington.

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