MINNEAPOLIS – The NFL has had better seasons than 2017 and it has had worse ones, too. Regardless, commissioner Roger Goodell is always able to put a happy spin on things just before the Super Bowl. That tradition continued Wednesday during Goodell’s state-of-the-league address inside a downtown hotel ballroom ahead of Sunday’s game between the Eagles and New England Patriots.
After dealing with league-wide national anthem protests designed to raise awareness about social injustice early in the season, Goodell weathered another storm of controversy when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones threatened to sue the league if the compensation committee extended the commissioner’s contract. And, of course, the definition of what is and what is not a catch remained more elusive than the meaning of life.
In the end, it remained just as good to be the commissioner as it is to be the king. Goodell, 58, got his new contract in early December and, according to ESPN.com, he could make as much as $200 million from the five-year extension that runs through 2023 and is filled with incentives and bonuses.
The league’s big announcement shortly before Goodell’s news conference was that it reached a five-year agreement with Fox to televise Thursday night football games through 2022. The deal, according to USA TODAY, was worth $3 billion, a $150 million per year increase over the two-year deal previously shared between NBC and CBS. Apparently it did not matter to Fox that the Thursday night product has been criticized by the league’s players as being a diluted because they do not get enough time to recover or prepare from the previous week’s game. NFL television ratings were also down 9.7 percent this season, but the league is still a top television draw and Fox was more than happy to up the ante on the league’s least popular broadcasting night.
After another year of controversial calls, especially concerning what is and what is not a catch, Goodell promised that the league wants to resolve that issue.
“I’ve been in this league for 36 years and I think every year I hear the refrain about officiating,” Goodell said. “My philosophy is that I’m never satisfied. Our officiating can get better and so can all of us. I think our officiating is outstanding. I believe the technology the way it is now, we can see things we did not see 10 years ago, and that makes their job even harder.”
Goodell believes the best way the league can help officials is by more clearly defining what constitutes a catch.
“I think a lot of the focus for us in the offseason is going to be on the rule book,” Goodell said. “You look at the catch-no catch rule, the officials are officiating correctly. What we have to do is find the rule that we think is going to address what we think should be a catch in the league.”
Goodell said a group of Hall of Fame players and NFL coaches were at the league offices in New York two weeks ago watching hours of video and discussing what should constitute a catch.
“I think we have a lot of good ideas that we’re going to submit to the competition committee and I think there will be a lot of focus on going to the ground,” Goodell said. “I think that’s part of the confusion in respect to that rule. I think we have a great opportunity here to get this rule right so that everyone understands it.”
The league still does not have a rule that requires players to stand during the national anthem, but the Players Coalition, which is headed by Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and former NFL receiver Anquan Boldin, does have the league’s ear and a promise for roughly $90 million of support from the NFL that will be earmarked for social causes, especially in African American communities.
“Our focus is going to continue on building platforms that the owners and players spend a great deal of time with unprecedented dialogue creating those platforms,” Goodell said. “I think we’re excited about that. We have a committee of owners and players that have met in person once, on the phone a second time and we’ll meet again in the next 30 days. The efforts there are … what can we do to evolve that platform and make it effective in terms of what the players are interested in, which is making our communities better.”
Not that it makes any difference, but Goodell spent a lot more time talking about the Eagles than the New England Patriots at the top of his news conference and he also thanked the governor of Minnesota for helping to pay for the stadium where Super Bowl XLII will be played.
“The Eagles are a great example of how quickly things can change in the NFL,” Goodell said. “They went worst to first in 2017, winning the NFC East a season after finishing in last place. They represented hope and are a symbol for fans of teams that had a rough year. Anything is possible and the Eagles are proof of that.”
And no matter what happens Sunday night, it will still be good to be the commissioner.