Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said late Saturday night he wanted to see “some more cards played” before he commented on the six-game suspension for running back Ezekiel Elliott. Who knew that one of of those “cards” would be a five-year contract extension for Commissioner Roger Goodell?
Sports Business Journal reported that Goodell was close to an agreement on a new deal that would make him the league’s commissioner through the 2024 season. It’s by no means done, but these talks come at a time when not only the players have been calling for Goodell’s exit but two of the league’s most powerful owners — Jones and Patriots owner Robert Kraft — have had fundamental disagreements with Goodell on his use of power against their star players.
But putting aside your thoughts on Goodell’s suspension of Elliott, the commissioner is correct about one thing that he has fought for repeatedly. The NFL needs to shorten its preseason.
Goodell fought for an 18-game regular season and a two-game preseason a few years back, but player safety concerns never let that proposal gain any traction. More recently he has suggested the preseason be reduced to three games with an underlying hope that the players will come around and at least open the door to a 17-game regular season.
More regular season games mean more money for everyone. And it’s money that, in spite of everything else, will keep Goodell in power.
It seems like everyone has wanted Goodell fired at some point during the last five years — angry owners, all the players, women’s groups, you name it. But the reality is that in today’s professional sports world, the commissioner works for the owners. And those owners have grown richer than ever on Goodell’s watch.
Even with almost constant stories about declining TV ratings last season, the NFL remained in the business of printing money. The league produced revenues of $14 billion in 2016, reportedly up $1 billion from the previous season.
Give owners more money and labor peace — we’ll see how that goes in 2021 but the NFL hasn’t missed actual games since 1987 — and they’ll grant you an extension.
Owners and players could make even more money by reducing the preseason and adding one game to the regular season. A lot more money. But let’s say that the concerns about concussions and injuries prevent this from happening, and the league stays with a 16-game schedule.
The preseason has to be reduced, anyway. Teams don’t need four games and, heaven forbid, no one needs five like the Cowboys will play this August.
Quarterback Dak Prescott played almost a quarter Saturday night. He will play a little more than that, perhaps a half, Saturday night against Oakland. And he won’t appear at all in the other games.
Elliott has not hit the field yet, and that has nothing to do with his suspension. He is expected to get a few carries Saturday and call it a preseason. The New Orleans Saints have said that running back Adrian Peterson may not participate in a single preseason play.
Who really needs these games?
Coaches can figure out the back end of the roster without four 60-minute looks at these players. Fans sure as hell don’t want to pay full regular season price or anything close to it for these scrimmages. And as much as quarterback Cooper Rush might be enjoying these games, we can offset his vote for the current format with a “no”’ vote from Kellen Moore.
Seriously, we know these games have been nothing but money grabs for a long time. Alabama and Florida State will hit the field on Sept. 2 in Atlanta and play a game that could help determine the national championship, and neither will have played a single preseason game. If college kids and coaches and pull this off, surely the full-time pros can prepare for a season without so much live action.
So give Goodell credit for acknowledging the last several years that the preseason is not a great product.
Unfortunately, a cutback in these games isn’t high on the owners’ list, even if they all know their teams would be fresher to start the season without so many high-risk exhibitions. These games aren’t the “cards” that Jones is eager to see.
Regardless, whether Elliott ends up with a six-game suspension, a four-game suspension following appeal or challenging the commissioner’s ruling in court, Goodell has added another stadium to the list that will be tough to visit.
But being popular and commissioner have rarely gone hand in hand in any sport.
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