Let’s remember something about the NFL: almost always, without exception, the answer is money. As the dust finally settles on Deflategate, the tendency is to continue bashing the human piñata known as Roger Goodell for a case that was bungled from the snap.
But Goodell and the NFL don’t really care about the beating so long as they have leverage at the bargaining table. Allow me to explain.
Over the last two years, the NFL’s mismanaging of everything from Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson to Greg Hardy to Tom Brady has made Goodell look like a clown. During that time, speculation has grown that Goodell will lose disciplinary power, that eventually all disciplinary matters will be handled by an independent, third party. Even Goodell has acknowledged this on some level, saying that he could certainly make better use of his time.
But you know what has to happen for Goodell to give up that power? The NFL Players Association has to give up something in return. They have to pay for it.
And this is where Deflategate comes in.
Say what you will about the stupidity of a story that almost reached the Supreme Court (and still might) after originating with the amount of air in a football. What Deflategate ultimately became, of course, was a question about Goodell’s power. After Brady’s victory at federal court, the NFL prevailed at the Second Circuit not once, but twice, affirming the dreaded Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which essentially makes the commissioner a dictator.
Goodell was validated by the court system. However much of a boob he appears to be, he has the power to do what he has done. And the courts have said so.
This is why, in the end, the NFLPA, with or without Tom Brady, is likely to take the case to the Supreme Court. Whether the players can actually be heard there — and then win — is another matter entirely.
Goodell may be a punching bag in the court of public opinion, but he’s a shark at the negotiating table. And those 32 billionaire NFL owners know it. However many millions the NFL spent on Deflategate, they will reclaim it multiple times over at the bargaining table. If the NFL players union wants Goodell to give up some power, they’re going to have to negotiate for it. And that means expanding the schedule to 18 games, or giving up some slice of revenue or sacrificing some other asset that will put more revenue in the pockets of some of the world’s richest people.
Remember that the NFL has an issue when it comes to increasing revenue. They’ve been talking about expanding to London, for goodness sake, which still seems like a stupid idea. But if there’s another drop of water to be squeezed from the stone, the NFL will find it. And if they can’t get it from the stone, they’ll get it from the players.
As for Goodell’s public beating… so what? He doesn’t work for the fans; he works for the owners. And as long as the real people who run the NFL continue seeing increased margins, well, who really cares what anyone thinks about the commissioner? Americans are addicted to football, and everyone knows it.
And the next time someone refuses to watch a football game because he or she doesn’t like the commissioner, well, that will be the first.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.