Four Downs: Why Now for Roger Goodell’s Extension; Los Angeles Rams Keep Eye on SoCal Wildfires

Roger Goodell's extension: why the timing was right. Plus notes on Rams, Eli Manning and more.
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1. Timing of Goodell’s extension. Why now? Why did the compensation committee push commissioner Roger Goodell’s new contract over the goal line with 15 months left on his existing deal this week, given all the discord over it? It’s simple. Next Wednesday, the owners will gather for their annual winter meeting in Dallas, and the compensation committee wasn’t going to go there with the prospect of all hell breaking loose in Jerry Jones’ backyard. By striking the five-year deal now, and getting Goodell to sign it, the six-man committee has effectively taken the commissioner’s contract situation off the agenda. There was a belief that, since Jones had continued to convene calls and lobby his peers, the Cowboys owner planned to take the issue to the floor at that meeting.

“Animosity towards Jerry is running very high,” said one league source. “The idea that the owners were going to waltz into Dallas and let Jerry dictate to them? That was never going to happen.”

The interesting thing is how Jones’ push, in fact, may have given Goodell leverage in the talks, in that the Cowboys owner’s threats to sue unified other owners against him, and created motivation to get the deal done before the Dallas meeting. Add to that the fact that five of the six owners on the compensation committee (Kansas City’s Clark Hunt, New England’s Robert Kraft, New York’s John Mara, Houston’s Bob McNair and Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney) were also on the Los Angeles committee, and lived through Jones commandeering that process, and it was clear that another power play wasn’t going to happen.

“People that might have been willing to wait saw Jerry going crazy and it actually galvanized (the owners),” said one ownership source. “He’d already caused the damage, and even after he’d said he wouldn’t sue, he was organizing calls and lobbying owners. Enough people said, ‘It’s not Jerry’s league.’ Jerry’s done a lot for the league, but he’s pulling us apart.”

And that’s where Goodell’s first task will be moving forward—finding a way to reunify the larger group with new broadcast deals and labor negotiations on the horizon. And yes, he’ll be well-compensated for it. My understanding is that the base on Goodell’s five-year deal is about $4 million per, with 90 percent of the money tied to incentives based on the prosperity of the league, some very easy to hit, some almost impossible to reach. I was told that in a good, solid year, Goodell will make in the mid-to-high 20s; and in a great year, he’ll get to the low 30s. It sounds like he’ll basically have to walk on water to hit the max number, which is around $40 million per.

And as for what’s ahead, I’d expect in Dallas, some owners will start discussions on changes in the league office, and there could be some sentiment for the NFL to get out of the investigation business.

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2. Rams dealing with the wildfires. By now, we’ve all seen the videos of the Southern California wildfires that look like they were shot on another planet. And the Rams are keeping those visuals in mind as they move forward with what’s been a trying week for so many of their neighbors. As for where they stand, the team’s home base in Thousand Oaks is about 20 miles from the worst of the fires, the Thomas Fire, in Ventura, and no staffers or players have fallen victim to them, but it’s had a small affect on how the team operates this week.

On Tuesday, there were ashes in the air, and it was smoky, and the team decided to start planning to be inside for the week. Though things had improved by Wednesday morning, the air quality was still shaky and the winds were blowing, so the Rams followed through with their contingency plan to have an elongated walkthrough inside Cal Lutheran’s gym in lieu of a practice. The plan is to go back to the normal schedule now, and be back outside Thursday and Friday, and all of that is, obviously, subject to change (the contingency there would be to move practice South to USC). No matter what happens, this will all challenge the team (and obviously, that’s a lot less serious challenge than what others in the area are facing) with a huge game against the Eagles looming.

“One of the things our guys have gotten comfortable with, you look at the long trip earlier in the year, they just adjust and adapt,” coach Sean McVay told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve become a more mature team as the season has progressed. The goal is to make sure our players are as fresh as possible at 1:25 (PT).”  Off the field, the Rams have been in contact with the Red Cross in an effort to help, and the proceeds from their 50/50 raffle on Sunday will go to wildfire relief.

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3. Jets taking off. Strange thing happened on the way to the first pick in the draft—the Jets’ actually became the model of New York football stability in 2017. And no, the bar for that hasn’t necessarily been set high. But the past week has served as a good barometer for the turnaround that’s pulled the plug on what was supposed to be an effort by the Jets to tank their way to a franchise quarterback in 2018. Things easily could’ve gone the wrong way on several fronts.

In the days leading up to Sunday’s game, linebacker Darron Lee overslept and was late Saturday, and Mo Wilkerson was late for a meeting. As a result, Lee was deactivated and Wilkerson sat through the first quarter. And then, the Jets fell behind 14-0 against a Kansas City team that’s fighting for its playoff life. The 2015 or ’16 Jets may have crumbled in that spot, but this year’s group kept swinging, got the game tied at 14 by the half, and outlasted the Chiefs after the break to score a 38-31 win. Or one staffer put it, “They just kept playing.” And they did it with a young, competitive and hungry team, which explains the model that coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan were looking for in players in going through the overhaul of last offseason.

The truth is, the last two years has been a learning process for those two guys as they’ve grown into their roles—in taking an aging team to 10 wins in 2015, and then watching it crumble in ’16—and that growth has been evident in both this year. Just about all of the veterans that Maccagnan jettisoned have struggled or aren’t playing elsewhere, and he nailed his high picks, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, and found the right quarterback, Josh McCown, to put young players around. Bowles’ ability to get the players to shut out the noise about tanking isn’t to be forgotten either. Bowles also developed the young talent on hand, no small feat after flipping out his offensive staff.

And now, going forward, the Jets have some nice young players to build, $80 million to spend, and, potentially, four of the top 75 picks in next year’s draft. Finding a quarterback (Kirk Cousins?) could be more of an issue without a pick inside the Top 2 or 3, but cultural changes that have taken hold have been worth it, in the minds of the brass. And provided no one suddenly gets itchy, ownership there might really wind up benefiting from being patient with its young coach/GM combo.

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4. Is Eli on the way out?It’s impossible to prognosticate Eli Manning’s future without knowing who’ll be making the football decisions for the Giants in 2018. But I certainly wouldn’t rule out staying, and for a couple reasons.

First, it wouldn’t be hard at all, logistically, for the team to both keep Manning and draft a Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen inside the Top 3 picks. Manning is set to make $33 million over the next two years, and a $16.5 million average would be a bargain for a starter in 2018. So the Giants could easily carry his number, and that of a rookie going at the top of the draft, who’d like be making around $7.5 million per. Those two figures, by the way, add to $24 million per, which is less than what five quarterbacks are making on their own.

Second, there’s no guarantee the new Giants leadership will be smitten with Rosen or Darnold, or anyone else, and there’s the chance some of the top QBs stay in school. Keeping Manning would give you flexibility to protect against all that—the same way hanging on to Sam Bradford protected the Eagles before they drafted Carson Wentz.

The caveat is that you’d want Manning to agree to it, and maybe he wouldn’t. But I think based on the value he puts on being a career Giant, he’d likely at least think about it. And if you could get him to do it, he’d probably be great for the young guy to be around and allow the club to wait on playing him. And listen, I know that a lot of people took what happened last week as a eulogy for Manning’s run as a Giant. But he’s back in the lineup this week, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he stays a while later.