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Roger Goodell Got A Big New Contract To Do The Same Old Thing

Roger Goodell speaks to the assembled media with kind of a dippy grin on his face before the Super Bowl in February of 2023.
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Not that it matters any more, but it seems that even the most cynical experts were wrong about whether Roger Goodell had enough money to sleep on for the rest of his great-great-great-grandchildren's lives. Or, anyway, they were wrong about whether already having that much money would somehow be sufficient. Instead, Goodell is apparently getting a new deal believed to be three years as the NFL's invisible human shield, a contract term that will not cover either a new collective bargaining agreement or a new media rights deal for him to negotiate.

That is to say, he is going to be paid well north of $60 million per year through 2026 to do nothing but stammer through an explanation of a still-TBD Washington Commanders sale to someone who will somehow amazingly be worse than Danny Snyder. This will happen because that's the way these things always work, but also because that’s what Goodell’s job is. All of this is hard to imagine, and not just because Snyder's repulsion seems so crystalline in its perfection. But trust us, in a world without shame, there are only cosmetic layers of crust between here and the planet's molten core. There will be some more repellent owner for that team, and then the next one that goes up for sale, and Goodell will do his best to protect those owners from the consequences of the repellent things they do. 

But this isn't about Li'l Danny, not any more. This is about Goodell, the man most responsible for exposing the myth that a commissioner's intellect, PR skills, or general image matters at all. Goodell gets three more years, at a top-of-the-market rate, while having to do nothing much to earn it. Goodell's skill was once looking like the mall cop, judge, and jury for miscreant players; he did not really excel at that, and it never mattered. Then it was negotiating money out of media companies and a players union that needed the league even more than the league needed them; this was easier, and he did fine. For the next three years the only thing he will have to negotiate is a back door escape any time there are reporters in the lobby.

I personally hope he makes $200 million a year for that. If someone has to have it, better him than any of the meat puppets who pay him.

He is getting this deal because the owners don't have a replacement they want to pretend to interview (there's no Rooney Rule in the palace), and because they know that he knows his place, and also because he knows that the family secrets stay within the family. There will be no book worth the read coming from Roger Goodell, because he knows what an interesting book looks like and will be damned if any such book is going to be done with his permission. 

Goodell helped guide the league into its current too-big-to-suffer status, not by making himself a public figure but by knowing how the right shoes need to be squeezed. He never bucked authority, but he played at being an authority figure with network executives and the supine players union. He ignored scandals beyond the difficult task of referencing those scandals by painting slogans suggesting that they no longer exist in the league's 32 end zones. He emerged from his fortress of solitude often enough to master vapid answers to thorny questions, at least the ones he couldn't duck outright. His hair was perfect, and he wore open-necked dress shirts under suit coats to give himself an air of avuncularity that's actually foreign to him.

And now he never even has to emerge to check his shadow. This is the golden parachute that could lead to a new golden parachute, all because Goodell mastered the art of knowing what not to do, and who not to do it to. There is no scandal the league can't envelop with two extra regular season games, no social issue it cannot lip service into irrelevant submission. Even the thorny Snyder matter, however it resolves itself, is essentially out of Goodell’s hands—that's a billionaire boys club fight that with any luck will rain bank vault shrapnel and rivers of molten lead on them all. When it’s his turn to explain the coup, he’ll word salad the entire process to make everyone feel just clean enough to get through the day. That is what all that money is for.

So we're not done with The Ginger Avenger after all, but in actuality we are. He taught the other commissioners that the goal of the job is to outgrow the ego strike that comes with the visible exercise of power; when he has to do a presser, it means that something failed to fall through the cracks of the wall that separates his empire from the everyday cares of American life. Goodell came to understand, in the fullness of time, that publicity is for suckers. He mastered the twin dances of saying nothing unless forced, and nothing substantive ever. He became very rich doing all this.

And now he gets to retire without retiring. As long as Goodell leaves the job before 2030, when the next CBA comes due, he can spend his remaining life span in his pajamas and never go on an NFL Zoom ever again, let alone hear the horrifying words, "It's Jerry Jones on the hot line."

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