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Breakthrough for Roger Goodell: Courts bad for NFL business, role in discipline could change

Tuesday morning revealed once again why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is regarded with distrust by many players, reviled by legions of fans and -- according to an Outside the Lines report -- supported more strongly than ever by the majority of league owners.

Goodell spoke publicly for the first time since U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Berman vacated Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension. Appearing on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike in the Morning, Goodell:

  • Stood firm on the league's ongoing course of litigation in DeflateGate, no doubt appeasing owners who consider the issue a make-up call for soft punishment in the 2008 SpyGate punishment, as reported by OTL. If you were hoping the league would rescind its appeal of Berman's decision, well, it doesn't appear it will happen.

  • Inadvertently noted the inherent confusion in some NFL policies by saying the league “absolutely” did not ask the Patriots to suspend two game day employees for their apparent roles in a ball-deflation scheme. That admission must be reconciled with the league's requirement that those two men, John Jastremski and Jim McNally, can not be reinstated without the approval of NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent.

  • Acknowledged that "you're not going to win them all" but sounded a hopeful tone about future discipline procedures. Goodell said he wants to "get to a better place where we have ultimately better decisions."

It's that final point that should provide a glimmer of hope for the future of a league that, as OTL described in great detail, is weighed down by divergent allegiances to competing goals. At the moment, the league's process for resolving disciplinary disputes is mind-bendingly ineffective.

As we've discussed before, it's goes something like this: Accuse. Leak. Investigate. Mull. Leak. Discipline. Appeal. File lawsuit. Investigate the investigation. Negotiate. Exhaust all legal options. Settle (sometimes). Rinse. Repeat.

Tuesday, Goodell made clear he understands that the "courts are not where we should be having these discussions," a simple but important breakthrough. He revealed he reached out to NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith last week -- before Berman announced his decision -- and told him: "We need to sit down and figure out how do we get to a better place on our discipline procedures."

The question -- and this gets to the dichotomy of Goodell's intent, statements and allegiances -- is whether he is referring to substantive change or merely the appearance of it. Goodell said he is "very open" to changing his role as the league's primary disciplinary officer. His reason, however, is not poor performance but to alleviate an "extremely time-consuming" process.

He suggested a policy that would replace him with a discipline czar of sorts and then a "designee of mine" to hear appeals. Goodell, however, said he has "resistance" to a true neutral and third-party arbitrator on appeals because "you don't delegate" the responsibility of enforcing NFL standards.

A discipline czar and a Goodell designee for appeals would be a better system than, say, Goodell and Goodell. And it's understandable why the NFL might not want to put its most sacred values in the hands of someone who isn't connected to it.

It's fair to wonder, though, whether Goodell's vision would address the true underlying factor in why Brady, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have all prevailed in front of judges or retired judges in the past year with rulings that stated the NFL violated its collective bargaining agreement in handing out discipline. It's fair to wonder if players would feel any safer with a Goodell designee rather than Goodell himself evaluating whether that has happened in a given case.

But that's the NFL these days, right? You mix the good with the bad, scream loudly at the process and then -- as is fully expected for Thursday night's season opener at Gillette Stadium -- watch the games in numbers greater than ever. So it goes.