Complaining players late to party
Time for outrage over Goodell's power was during CBA negotiations
While NFL Players Association officials and players rail at the evidence and process the NFL is using regarding the bounty suspensions and appeals, I shake my head.
Have a question for ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt? Ask it here » Look for your answer in a future column.
The time for that outrage was when the process was being negotiated, not now. That evidence is not in front of a court of law; it is in front of the court of Roger Goodell.
Regarding player conduct, whether the punishments are fair is the decision of the punisher, Goodell. This process was approved by the NFLPA in last year's run-up to a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, one with no outs for either side.
My tweet expressing this sentiment was retweeted by Falcons receiver Roddy White -- who continued his Twitter tirade against his union -- and I received several messages from current players about this, one wondering, "Are we stuck with this for the next nine years?" Uh, yes.
Going into the negotiation, as with any negotiation, there were priorities for each side. The owners, citing a changed economic environment since the 2006 CBA, wanted a "reset" -- a euphemism for players making less money -- and got it.
One of the NFLPA's priorities was to rein in Goodell on conduct powers. Players felt he had become too arbitrary and capricious with his discipline and wanted, at the least, an independent appeals process.
So much for that.
Priorities change. I get it. Perhaps the players felt the conduct issue, like the franchise tag issue, would affect only a handful of players and chose to not press it. However, the current indignation against what was collectively bargained rings hollow.
The NFLPA even pursued two grievances to make an end run around Goodell, but they failed, placing the appeals right back in front of you-know-who.
What is "fair"?
Was it fair that Ben Roethlisberger received a six-game suspension -- later reduced to four -- for conduct that, albeit vile, did not result in criminal charges? Was it fair that Michael Vick, after having served 23 months in prison, faced an additional five-game suspension -- later reduced to two -- for dogfighting?
Is it fair that Goodell is punishing players for a coach-driven pay-for-performance program that may or may not have morphed into a pay-for-injury scheme? Goodell thinks so, even if the players punished for their "leadership roles" in such a program disagree.
Goodell rules from information gathered by his security staff and his own set of high morals. The evidence may be hearsay or circumstantial, but it's relevant in this context.
I witnessed Goodell's first conduct discipline in 2006 up close. In Green Bay, we signed receiver Koren Robinson, recently released by the Vikings following a DUI charge.
Under former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a player's case would require adjudication before discipline. Robinson had a February trial, so we expected to have him for the season.
However, there was a new sheriff in town. Goodell saw the police report's mention of the smell of alcohol and, knowing Robinson's history, suspended him for a year. What about the judicial process? What if it wasn't alcohol on his breath? Was that fair? No matter. Goodell was not about to let creative lawyering get in the way of his conduct initiative. Robinson, whom Goodell grew to like, was collateral damage.
Goodell was willing to defer to an independent appeals arbitrator on other matters but not on conduct.
Which brings us back to the CBA, where commissioner rule on conduct continues. The players' righteous anger of today would have been better served a year ago.
NFLPA needs a win
It is unfair to grade a CBA after one season, but I believe the league should realize that a one-sided deal is ultimately problematic. As much as Goodell and owners may not appreciate DeMaurice Smith's posturing and litigious bent, they need him as a partner.
It may be time the NFL allows the NFLPA a couple "wins" in their relationship, and I mean "wins" bigger than safety measures -- which would have happened anyway -- and continuing the Pro Bowl.
Perhaps Goodell will provide a carrot for players to have their suspensions reduced for good behavior -- as he did with Roethlisberger and Vick -- or at least lessen the financial penalties. Perhaps he allows for the union's version of a test for HGH. Just something. That may be what this partnership needs. Deep down, I think Goodell knows that.
From the inbox
Q: If you were the Jags, what would you do about Maurice Jones-Drew? -- Dave in Tampa
A: I understand MJD's point of view. He has seen the market pass him by and knows the short shelf life of his position.
The Titans complicated matters for the Jaguars last year when they tore up Chris Johnson's deal with two years left. But Johnson was on a rookie contract; Jones-Drew is not.
I remember dealing with Ahman Green for the Packers when the market for running backs exploded in 2004, with new deals for Clinton Portis and LaDainian Tomlinson. Green was understandably trying to adjust his deal based on the new benchmarks. As much as I liked him personally, I wouldn't go there. Not at that position.
I suppose what I would do with MJD is allow for additional "earnable" money on the existing deal: per-game roster bonuses, incentives, offseason workout bonuses, etc. It is not what the player or the team really wants, but it's a workable compromise.
Q: What about Percy Harvin? -- Bill in Duluth
A: If a player is going to engage in some kind of discontent, he better be special. And Harvin, like Jones-Drew, is special. In 2010, a Vikings official told me that a factor in releasing Randy Moss was a perceived negative influence on Harvin.
Harvin contends his dissatisfaction is unrelated to his contract, a rookie deal with two years left. I try not to be jaded on this, but I sense that these issues would be soothed by an upgraded contract.
The Vikings should approach Harvin at some point before this time next year, not letting him near his leverage point of free agency in 2014.
Q: What's the holdup with Andrew Luck's contract with the Colts? -- Paul in Chicago
A: It's not about money. We've known that the numbers will look very similar to those of Cam Newton last year, four years fully guaranteed for slightly more than the $22 million Newton got.
A potential issue is the guarantee offset, reducing the Colts' obligation if Luck were released and picked up by another team. Newton's contract did not have an offset; other top picks in 2011 did.
If not the offset issue, perhaps the holdup concerns language issues -- such as marketing, publicity, etc. -- on the back side of the deal. We already know what the front side will look like.
The NFL on ESPN.com