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Goodell must be careful with overstepping

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted Aug. 19, 2011 @ 1:14 a.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

You must never doubt NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's conviction. He is a man who is not afraid of controversy and is willing to spit into the wind in order to effect an end to things that he feels is justified.

You wouldn't expect different from the son of a Republican senator who once sent a — at the time — quite contrarian letter denouncing the Vietnam War to then-president Richard Nixon. That letter, incidentally, hangs in the offices of the younger Goodell at 280 Park St. in New York, where the NFL does its business.

Many interesting things have occurred in that office under Goodell's watch, including meetings with several players, league officials and union folks that have rendered some important decisions the past five seasons.

Several times, Michael Vick and Goodell have met in that office, and in other places, and there is little doubt that the commissioner has played an important role in the rehabilitation of Vick, who quickly has been restored to icon status and who has done so while staying free and clear of legal distraction.

Goodell has made discipline one of his prime missives, so much so that it was written into the new CBA that he would retain sole and universal power on player suspensions — an issue the NFLPA was said to be very adamant to change.

Because of this, it's only fair we measure his handling of players and make sure that he is doing so with an even hand. And that's why two big stories on Thursday — the supplemental draft ruling on Terrelle Pryor, and Vick being quoted that he was convinced by Goodell and league officials to sign with the Eagles — have reflected negatively on the commissioner.

It's interesting to me that the Vick story received more backlash and attention and even garnered responses from Vick, the Eagles and the NFL saying that Goodell absolutely played no role in Vick choosing the Eagles over the Bengals or Bills, both of whom might have considered making him a starting quarterback before Philly would have.

I am guessing that Vick's original portrayal of the story is less accurate than his follow-up statement. I am fairly confident that Goodell is not stupid or arrogant enough to push a certain player toward signing with a team, even a player whom he badly wanted not to fail him.

And that's why this is tricky. Goodell, you could say, ushered Vick back into the league. And in doing so, the commish stakes his reputation a bit on a troubled player and one who could make him look badly with another misstep.

So you can assume that Goodell wanted to make sure Vick made the right, well-thought-out decisions, which he has every right to do. It's likely he suggested to Vick that perhaps throwing himself right back into the NFL as a starting quarterback and all the attention that comes with it might not be the best idea. That's friendly, smart advice. I am guessing that Tony Dungy and other advisers close to Vick probably nudged Vick toward Philly, which was more of a long-term situation.

Considering that most of this story seems on the level, I wondered why the Pryor thing didn't bring more initial heat on Goodell. What he did, implementing a five-game suspension for a player who has yet to enter the NFL, is mind-boggling.

Check out this rationale from the NFL: "Pryor made decisions that undermine the integrity of the eligibility rules for the NFL Draft. Those actions included failing to cooperate with the NCAA and hiring an agent in violation of NCAA rules. This resulted in Ohio State declaring him ineligible to continue playing college football. Pryor then applied to enter the NFL after the regular draft. Pryor had accepted at the end of the 2010 college football season a suspension for the first five games of the 2011 season for violating NCAA rules."

According to article 8.6 of the NFL constitution and bylaws: "The Commissioner is authorized ... to take appropriate steps as he deems necessary and proper in the best interests of the league ... whenever any party or organization not a member of, employed by, or connected with the league or any member thereof is guilty of any conduct detrimental either to the league, its member clubs or employees, or to professional football."

Translation: Goodell has carte blanche to hand down discipline, even to those players who have yet to enter the NFL. How about that?

It's funny that what we are talking about is undermining the integrity of the supplemental draft when that process really is geared toward giving more options to rule breakers in the first place. Flunk out of spring semester? Come join the NFL! Take money from a booster and be kicked off your team? The professional ranks await you!

Goodell is setting an odd precedent here, and a dangerous one, tying himself and the NFL in with NCAA sanctions for any time we have a situation where a troubled player is facing a suspension and the NFL carrot is dangled in front of him.

These are dangerous trends. Perhaps less so with Vick because I really don't believe Goodell steered him toward one team or away from others. But it's interesting to view these stories in light of the recently completed (and hotly contested, I might remind you) CBA negotiations, when many players openly discussed their dislike for Goodell. Many felt (and still feel) he has gotten to know only a handful of players and that perhaps he's a bit too chummy with them.

Other players — ring up the Steelers and see what they think — certainly think Goodell is too harsh with his discipline. The Pryor ruling, handed down to a player who has been arrested for nothing and who has yet to be employed in the league, is certain to anger more.

"Overstepping" is the word some have come up with to describe Goodell's sometimes iron fist. Here's hoping he knows when to pull out the velvet glove.

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