Roger Goodell is close to completing a five-year contract extension to remain in place as NFL commissioner at least through 2024, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.
Financial terms of the deal, which was first reported by the Sports Business Journal, were not available.
Goodell’s current deal had two years remaining on it. His compensation is determined by a committee of NFL owners.
News of the prospective extension comes at a time when Goodell’s relationships with a key owner and the NFL Players Association are back under scrutiny. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is said to be upset about Goodell’s decision to suspend Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, the league’s leading rusher last season as a rookie, for six games under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
The NFLPA is appealing the suspension and Goodell appointed Harold Henderson, a former labor executive for the league, to hear the case. The league and union traded disparaging statements over the Elliott case.
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA, told the MMQB and Sports Illustrated that, in his view, a work stoppage in 2021 is a virtual certainty. Smith also told HBO that Goodell lied by saying the union would have input into the revised personal conduct policy enacted by the league and the owners in December 2014.
The current collective bargaining agreement between the league and union runs through 2020. Goodell’s extension, if completed, would ensure that he would oversee those negotiations for the owners.
According to another person with knowledge of the matter, final details of the extension still must be worked out between Goodell and the owners’ compensation committee led by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. The extension is expected to pass but the deal is not fully in place yet, according to that person. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was critical of Goodell for the commissioner’s handling of star quarterback Tom Brady’s Deflategate penalty, also sits on that committee.
There has been talk within the league and among the owners about a prospective new deal for Goodell for much of this year. The NFL, after surrendering its nonprofit status, no longer must disclose publicly the salaries of Goodell and other top executives. Goodell made approximately $32 million in the fiscal year 2015.
Goodell’s role in the system of player discipline will be a significant issue in the next set of labor negotiations. The union has been adamant that it wants to see players’ appeals of discipline imposed by the league resolved by an independent arbitrator rather than by Goodell or someone appointed by Goodell.
The league and union clashed in 2014 over disciplinary cases involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson, and again over the four-game suspension handed to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the Deflategate case. Brady and the union went to federal court over Brady’s suspension. Brady initially prevailed at the district court level, remaining eligible to play the entire 2015 season. But the suspension was reinstated by an appeals court, reaffirming Goodell’s authority in player discipline. Brady sat out the first four games of last season but he and the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.
Goodell and the league received widespread criticism for their handling of the Rice case in 2014. Goodell initially suspended Rice for only two games for domestic violence, then made the suspension indefinite after video was released publicly of Rice striking his then-fiancée in a hotel elevator. There were calls by some media members and by outside groups for Goodell to resign. But Goodell remained in place.
There also were questions about how Goodell’s job status would be affected by his once-close relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft being damaged by Deflategate. Kraft was critical of the league’s handling of the matter. But Kraft did not go to court, and Goodell has continued to rule the sport.
Now there undoubtedly will be questions about whether Goodell’s hold on the job will be affected, if at all, by Jones’s displeasure with the Elliott suspension. Before the suspension was announced, Jones said repeatedly that he did not believe that Elliott would be suspended and that a suspension was not warranted.
But the league, attempting to apply lessons learned from the Rice case, investigated the domestic violence allegations against Elliott for about a year and determined that a six-game suspension was justified, in its view. That is the baseline suspension for a first offense of domestic violence under the terms of the revised personal conduct policy. Goodell also consulted with a panel of four outside advisers before making his ruling in the Elliott case.
Elliott’s appeal reportedly will include evidence that his accuser threatened to ruin his career. After such evidence was reported by media outlets, the league accused the union of engaging in victim-shaming, and the union reacted angrily to that accusation by the league.
The next set of CBA negotiations also could address the sport’s marijuana policies and the length and structure of the season. The league has offered to participate in mutual research with the union over the possible use of marijuana as a pain-management tool for players. The NFLPA already had been studying that issue on its own.
Goodell has spoken recently about the possibility of reducing the NFL’s preseason from four games per team to two or three. It is not clear if the league would seek something, such as a longer regular season or an expanded set of playoffs, in return for a reduced preseason. The owners proposed an 18-game regular season with a two-game preseason during the last set of labor negotiations, but abandoned that proposal when the union objected on player-safety grounds.
The owners locked out the players before the 2011 labor deal. Smith is calling another lockout or a strike by the players likely after the current CBA, which runs through 2020, expires. But negotiations have not begun in earnest.
Player health and safety also has been a major issue for the NFL during Goodell’s tenure, which began when he succeeded Paul Tagliabue as commissioner in 2006. The league reached a $1 billion settlement with former players who sued over the health effects of concussions. The NFL has enacted a series of on-field safety rules and concussion-treatment protocols during Goodell’s leadership. It also has funded concussion-related research, although some of those efforts have brought controversy over allegations that the league attempted to steer funding toward certain researchers.