Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, in happier times. (Photo Credit: Jason Miller/Getty)

In four of the most prominent disciplinary decisions of his career, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s chosen punishments were overturned. By Paul Tagliabue in Bountygate, a neutral arbitrator with Ray Rice, and a federal judge with Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady (currently being appealed). It is understandable, then, that the players want to strip Goodell of his power to levy punishments. And while the CBA doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season, discipline is such a high-profile issue that the NFL and Players Association are currently engaged in negotiations over it.


Speaking to the press today at the annual Owner’s Meetings, Goodell said that the league and NFLPA are nowhere close to an agreement. Via the Boston Globe:

“We are not close to an agreement by any stretch of the imagination on any changes to that as it relates to third party or other individuals making those decisions,” Goodell said. “But we are open to them. We’ll continue to have that dialogue directly with the union.”


“I’ve been very open over the last several years, and we have had discussions about the discipline process for decades,” Goodell said. “We began after we signed our collective bargaining agreement in 2011 to discuss how we can modify the existing plan, and we’re always open to that. If we find a better discipline system, let’s do it.”

Hours later, ESPN’s Jim Trotter got ahold of an email sent to the NFLPA’s executive committee by executive director DeMaurice Smith. Smith wrote that the NFL’s current public position is “a massive step backwards” from where it had been, and gave a number of examples of positions he said the NFL has gone back on:


  • Neutral arbitration was a key part of the negotiations, but now the NFL’s position is that it isn’t
  • In October the NFLPA gave “tentative approval” to a plan that calls for three retired judges to serve as an arbitration panel, but now the NFL wants to narrow the scope of cases they can hear
  • Goodell wants to maintain his power to place players on the Commissioner Exempt List (where they are paid but can’t play) without any conviction, arrest, or even allegation of violent crime

Unsurprisingly, the league disputes Smith’s characterization of the negotiations. Spokesperson Brian McCarthy told ProFootballTalk that the NFLPA is trying “to create a false public impression of our discussions.”

While the public back-and-forth is interesting and provides a window into the discussions, ultimately I’m not sure that it matters all that much. The CBA doesn’t expire for another five years, and there is nothing the NFLPA can do if the owners are content to allow Goodell to continue as judge, jury, and executioner, with the frequent and frequently embarrassing reversals by arbitrators and judges that come along with that.


The negotiations will come down to the same thing they were always going to come down to, which is the NFLPA giving up something of enough value that it is worthwhile to the league to reopen the CBA when they don’t have to and cede authority to a third-party. And for the power-drunk Goodell to agree to that, it’ll have to be a hell of an offer.