PHOENIX -- Roger Goodell lords over a sport that often discards its players as easily as someone discards the morning trash. If you tear a hamstring in the NFL, or if you miss a few tackles on any given Sunday, you are often at the mercy of the nonguaranteed portions of your contracts and the men who insisted on them.
Given their painfully short careers, and the long-term damage done to their brains and limbs, NFL players deserve guaranteed wages more than any athletes in America. This is not about the Tom Bradys of the game. This is about the rank-and-file guys who put their bodies in danger week after week without the wage security afforded the coaches, executives and commissioners who assume no physical risk.
So if Goodell happened to be a linebacker or receiver who performed the way he did in 2014, he would've had his playbook taken away faster than he wanted the Ray Rice case to disappear from the public's consciousness. In an ideal world, Goodell would've been held to the same standards as his players. He would've been released from the team and escorted by security to the facility door for failing to honor the Belichickian mantra of Do Your Job.
But we learned long ago that the NFL is a distant galaxy removed from an ideal world. Goodell is among the chief reasons for that, and frankly, he admitted as much in his annual Friday news conference at the Super Bowl.
He talked more than once about being humbled by this season from hell. Of course, when you make that statement, you are conceding you needed to be humbled in the first place.
Goodell remained an arrogant autocrat even after his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, ran his Bountygate rulings through a paper shredder on further review. The commissioner who had lowered the "ignorance is not an excuse" boom on Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints tried to hide behind his cherished shield and his own alleged ignorance when acting shocked over the images in the second Rice video.
Goodell tried to blame the running back for running a misdirection play on what went down inside that casino elevator, and for deking the commissioner into settling on an absurd two-game suspension, before a former federal judge hearing Rice's appeal of the subsequent indefinite ban ruled that Roger had been the dodger and had engaged in an "abuse of discretion."
No player in the NFL survives his equivalent of an "abuse of discretion," and yet Goodell gets to present himself now as part of the solution instead of the problem while banking $44 million in 2013 as part of a deal reportedly worth $300 million.
Even A-Rod didn't sign for $300 million.
"It's been a tough year on me personally," the commissioner said. "It's been a year of what I would say is humility and learning. We obviously as an organization have gone through adversity, but more importantly, it's been adversity for me. We take that seriously. It's an opportunity for us to get better. ... We've all done a lot of soul-searching, starting with yours truly."
And after doing all that soul-searching, Roger Goodell emerged as a big believer in the new and improved Roger Goodell. When asked Friday about his job security, Goodell said he gave no consideration to resigning his position. In fact, he didn't think a self-imposed pay cut was appropriate, either.
"That's up to the owners," Goodell said. "They evaluate my performance. They evaluate my compensation every year. I don't argue."
How could he ever argue? The owners have decided they don't care that Goodell is in desperate need of a public humanizing. The commissioner might be a flawed money machine, but hey, he is a money machine.
You have to give Goodell that much. He's the Joe Montana of revenue streams. On one hand, he went on Friday about the league's player-safety priorities and the decrease in concussions, sending a message to all those terrified young parents out there inclined to send their little Johnnies off to play soccer and basketball instead. On the other hand, he spoke of the league's commitment to "Thursday Night Football" on CBS and the NFL Network, a money-maker that forces his gladiators back into the arena three days before their bodies are ready to rejoin the fight. (Note to readership: Please remind me to repeat this stance if ESPN ever purchases a Thursday night package.)
Yes, this is a brutally violent game millions upon millions of fans (myself included) really, really like. Goodell needs to do so much more to protect the players from the toll of that violence, and so what if he has to sacrifice a buck or three in the process?
The commissioner also needs to do a better job of managing his relationship with his owners. Richard Sherman was right: Goodell shouldn't be attending a function at the home of his biggest backer, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, on the eve of an AFC Championship Game involving Kraft's team, even if the function is an annual perk for league sponsors (another money-maker, of course). In a perception-is-reality business, many fans might find it hard to accept Goodell's claim that his personal affection for Kraft won't impact the league's investigation into the deflated balls used in said AFC Championship Game.
Goodell noted in his news conference that Kraft serves on the broadcast and finance committees. Funny, but the commissioner didn't note Kraft also serves on the compensation committee that notarized Goodell's obscene salary.
So be it. Goodell had no better chance of winning this day than the Jacksonville Jaguars ever had of advancing to Glendale, and so he said what he had to say and hoped for the best.
Goodell promised that the Deflategate inquiry will be on the up and up, that the new personal conduct policy will make the NFL a more responsible place on the issues surrounding domestic violence, and that the league won't wait on law enforcement anymore before punishing the bad guys in its midst.
But more than anything, Goodell promises he will lead as a humbled agent of change. We'll see about that. Meanwhile, the commissioner should go back and review the letter he wrote to Jim Irsay in suspending him for six games and fining him $500,000 after the Indianapolis Colts owner pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated.
"I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players," Goodell wrote. "We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard."
Commissioners should be held to the highest standard, too. No, Goodell didn't break any laws. He did damage the credibility of his league enough to earn a penalty more severe than an antagonistic meeting with the Super Bowl media and a forced pledge to do better next time.
When the commissioner was done talking on a ballroom stage Friday, triumphant music played on the overhead speakers, the kind that might signal the entrance of a Roman chariot assigned to whisk him away. Perfect, just perfect. Everyone gets cut in Roger Goodell's NFL. Just not Roger Goodell.