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Roger Goodell’s 10th anniversary: Could we see players strike?

This week marked the tenth anniversary of Roger Goodell’s tenure as commissioner of the National Football League. He celebrated the achievement by ‘clearing’ James Harrison, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers of any wrongdoing with regards to Al Jazeera’s investigation into PED use.

Of course Al Jazeera had retracted their claims before the NFL required interviews from the players and it was never really about a genuine investigation. It was a power play by the league, proving once again what a poor deal the NFLPA signed in 2011 and how all the cards were stacked in the NFL’s favour. Emboldened from the ‘success’ of Deflategate, Goodell once again wielded his disciplinary powers and threatened the players that non-compliance would be punished.

It’s fair to say the last ten years have been pretty tumultuous and the next five years look to be even more so. Whilst the owners of the NFL have never been richer and more satisfied from a business standpoint, the five year run up to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players looks to define the legacy of Goodell. And right now the league is arguably staring at the highest chance of a player strike for nearly thirty years.

In the offseason of the 2011 season it was the NFL owners that locked out the players during CBA negotiations. They wanted to push back against what they believed to be previous deals that weighed too heavily in the players favour. For whatever reason the public generally appeared on the side of billionaire owners than millionaire (not all of them) players and the two Jerrys, Jones and Richardson who were the owners driving the hardest bargain, won out as the players essentially agreed to a lesser share of the revenue pie in return for lesser practise times and a shelving of an increase to the regular season. What the players also surrendered, though few at the time focused on it, was the power the commissioner had relating to all disciplinary matters. From the start Goodell branded himself ‘The Enforcer’, he wanted to clean up the game. Unfortunately the arbitrary punishments of numerous ‘investigations’ Bountygate, Deflategate, the non-existent punishments for domestic violence but a no-tolerance approach to marijuana use has eroded trust between the league and it’s players. The demand for players to partake in an investigation well outside the agreed PED policy by invoking Article 46 is significant and only makes the relationship between the NFL and NFLPA further strained.

From the outside it looks as though Goodell is trying to set things up for the new 2020 CBA. By making his power in disciplinary matters such an fundamental issue he’ll be hoping a reduction of it can be used as a bargaining chip. Perhaps it could be exchanged to increase player practises. More likely, given Goodell’s drive for more revenue and a target of $25 billion by 2027, he’ll be after extending the regular season to 18 games and maybe a bigger postseason too.

On the excellent Andrew Brandt The Business of Sports podcast Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers talked about being more involved in negotiations next time around. He makes the point that the players need to understand the power they possess at the table (especially when broadcasters spend so many billions of dollars on the game) and regrets they agreed to something lesser than they deserved.

Rodgers : ‘It has to change. I don’t know why the owners wouldn’t want it to change, because it’s made the league look bad a few times. I read something–you know I said that I felt like we had the opportunity to make a change in the first CBA, and I stand behind that, that statement. Many guys I don’t think were aware of how strong our position could have been had we waited a little longer. ‘

Ex league employee Albert Breer, now of MMQB, implored the Al Jazeera players to fight the demands of the NFL before they caved into being interviewed. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk put forward the idea that not only should players be preparing financially for a strike but that they should also think about putting the wheels in motion for an alternative league in case of a strike, almost the opposite of the replacement players or ‘scabs’ of 1987. This time it’d be the players replacing the teams. Numerous other writers and insiders are starting to mention the word the strike too. There’s a real sense that a fight is brewing on the player’s side and up against a group of very rich men not used to losing, this could end up being a stand off as bad as the sport has seen.

Photo copyright: USA Today

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