After a series of legal losses by the NFL, speculation persists about whether the owners might consider firing Commissioner Roger Goodell. From the New Orleans Saints Bountygate case, to the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic abuse suspensions, and now the loss to Tom Brady in the Deflategate saga, the NFL’s credibility has been repeatedly damaged under Goodell’s watch.
In Deflategate, Judge Richard Berman issued a scathing 40-page decision that undermined nearly every facet of the NFL’s process in determining Brady’s four-game suspension, and Goodell’s upholding the suspension on appeal. Shortly after Berman’s ruling to rescind the suspension, the NFL appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
“We will appeal [the] ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game,” Goodell said in a statement. “The commissioner’s responsibility to secure the competitive fairness of our game is a paramount principle, and the league and our 32 clubs will continue to pursue a path to that end.”
Shortly after Goodell made his statement, word began to surface that Goodell’s powers might be reduced in matters of player discipline. And given the black eyes the NFL has taken recently, an owner or two might be inclined to have Goodell removed. But even if a block of owners was seriously considering this option, the economics of firing him may make it out of the question.
Goodell was given a contract extension in 2012 that runs through 2018. The value of the deal is approximately $300 million to $309 million in guaranteed salary. Based upon tax records, Goodell has pulled in $44.2 million in salary and bonuses each year since the extension was reached. That totals $132.6 million. If the league were to dismiss him before being paid for 2015, he would be owed another $176.8 million to meet the obligation of his extension. And, there’s nothing to say Goodell would not seek further compensation for releasing him early. After all, beyond the court losses and the associated costs, Goodell has served over a prosperous period for the NFL. Gross revenues for 2014 were reportedly $10 billion, with projections of $11 billion or more for 2015. While owners may be upset with how Goodell continues to embarrass them in court, firing him when he continues to make their wallets fatter would come with considerable pushback. Even if Goodell were willing to acquiesce, he would likely only do so with extra compensation on top of his current salary.
But, what if the owners wished to push further? What if they sought to remove Goodell against his wishes? Then, the owners would need to execute against Article VI, Section 6.5(G) of the NFL’s Constitution and Bylaws:
In the event that the Commissioner or any other officer of the League shall be convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude or be physically or mentally incapacitated to perform his duties or shall fail or refuse to abide by the Constitution and Bylaws of the League, and the Executive Committee finds that such action by such officer is detrimental to the best interests of the League, or in the event the Commissioner or any other officer of the League fails or is unwilling to perform his duties, then such Committee shall have the power after notice and hearing to suspend or remove said officer and to terminate any contract between such Commissioner or officer and the League.
While the court losses are damaging, the ability of a committee of owners to say that Goodell has been “detrimental to the best interest of the League” would be a difficult argument. Yes, Goodell has made the owners look bad in court, but if the owners agree to have player discipline matters heard before an independent arbitrator, then all of the bad press for Goodell is removed.
Given the uncertainty of how the Deflategate appeal by the NFL will be received with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Goodell could continue to make the owners and the league look bad. But the exorbitant price tag of removing Goodell as commissioner makes it a long shot at best.
Follow Maury Brown on Twitter @BizballMaury