Here's why the NFL is willing to continue its fight with officials
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell signed a new contract in February that runs through 2018 and maxes out at roughly $20 million annually.
That’s a lot of money, but his compensation is determined by NFL owners. Good for him if that’s what they believe he’s worth.
Now Goodell is presiding over a situation that continues to undermine the integrity of his league, one that could be resolved for a sum that’s less than a fifth of the annual salary he’ll earn in a few years.
Monday night’s debacle in Seattle, in which the Packers were robbed of a game-clinching, final-play interception (video) and lost to the Seahawks, could be the final straw in leading to a deal between the NFL and its locked-out game officials. You couldn’t dream up a worse scenario than the replacements literally handing a victory to the wrong club – which is exactly what happened in this case.
And it’s just the latest example of subpar officiating, something the Bucs have been victimized by in two consecutive games (e.g. Eric Wright’s would-be touchdown in Dallas).
But let’s focus on the bigger picture here. Why does the NFL think this fight is worth the trouble? It could resolve this lockout by agreeing to keep the officials’ pension benefits unchanged, a proposal that reportedly would cost the league around $3.3 million per year. Contrasted with that aforementioned $20 million figure, the decision to keep pursuing this seems inexplicable.
So, why is this a fight worth having?
Because the NFL is always this way when it comes to negotiations. Owners stood toe to toe with the players union last year during the lockout. The league continues to push back despite the legal challenges posed by players disciplined in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty investigation and a judge’s recent decision in their favor. Also, a protracted lockout might cause cracks in the union rank and file and, ultimately, break it apart for good.
And when the next negotiation with whoever begins, the NFL can be counted on to stand its ground then, too. Owners do not want to show weakness in negotiations as that may set a tone for the next big debate. And don’t think the fact that the players won on many of the key issues during collective bargaining isn’t significant.
The NFL feels it is a big enough and certainly wealthy enough enterprise to withstand these kinds of fights. But what happened in Seattle is a little more than a black eye; It was a jawbreaker.
Will this finally lead to a breakthrough in these contract talks with regular officials? We can only hope so.
But just understand that this fight, from the NFL’s perspective, is bigger than it may appear. And that may just convince owners to keep pressing, no matter how insulting events on the field might be.
UPDATE, 12:52 p.m.: The league office has released a statement on Monday night's events. Read it here.