Roger Goodell has instituted plenty of changes to the NFL but his his next move should probably involve adjusting the way he operates as the league commissioner.
Goodell, 53, has arguably exercised more power than any commissioner in professional sports in six years at the helm. In 2007, he introduced a far-reaching personal conduct policy to punish players for off-the-field misconduct. In 2009, Goodell adopted stronger safety guidelines that included testing players for concussions during games. He has also fined players for controversial hits.
However, Goodell has been scrutinized for failing to disclose consistent guidelines for suspensions. In the process, he has been subjected to harsh criticism from many NFL players.
His punishments have also been rather uneven. Goodell became the first commissioner in NFL history to suspend an NFL coach for any reason when he banished Saints head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season for a bounty program. However, he seemingly protected the legacy of future Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Belichick by not suspending the Patriots head coach for video taping opponents' practices in 2007.
Goodell has been unwilling or reluctant to disclose the reasons for his decisions. While Goodell has shown a lack of transparency in some areas, he has provided allegedly defamatory statements.
On May 17, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed a defamation lawsuit that claimed Goodell made false statements while discussing the Saints' bounty program that tarnished Vilma's reputation and hindered his ability to earn a living playing football.
On Wednesday, the NFLPA filed a collusion lawsuit against the NFL, which alleged that during the 2010 uncapped season, the league's owners agreed to a secret salary cap of $123 million.
The union reportedly became aware of the league's possible collusion after the NFL added one final element to the 2012 salary cap agreement. The NFLPA had to agree to penalize the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a combined $46 million in cap space for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
The Redskins and Cowboys were punished for maneuvering cap money from players' contracts into the uncapped year while clearing spending for the future. The NFL approved the maneuvers in 2010 but the league has claimed that owners were ominously warned that there would be consequences for taking advantage of the lack of a salary cap.
In other words, the league enforced an unwritten rule between owners, which could constitute collusion. The NFLPA estimated that the NFL could owe players $1 billion in damages for improperly restricting players' salaries.
There was no collusion, said Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of communications, in a written statement. There was no agreement. These claims are totally unfounded.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the level of contempt towards the commissioner is palpable.
Goodell probably needs to muster more goodwill between his office and the players. Former NFLPA President Gene Upshaw and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue had a civil relationship, and during their tenures the league avoided work stoppages and major lawsuits. The toxic relationship between current NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith and Goodell did little to move negotiations forward during the labor dispute of 2011 and may have long-lasting consequences.
Unless Goodell begins to practice transparency, along with sharing the player conduct penalties and fines with a committee, he may be in for a contentious situation when the next CBA is hashed out in 2020.
Commissioners in American professional sports tend to stay at their prestigious posts for decades. It's very possible that Goodell will be in charge for a long time like his predecessors. Pete Rozelle was the commissioner from 1960 to 1989, and his successor, Tagliabue, served for 17 years.
When 2020 rolls around, Goodell may need to have much improved relations with the players if he expects to avoid another ugly labor dispute.