New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft didn't have a lot of support among his billionaire brethren in his quixotic quest to get the NFL to return his team's lost draft picks. In fact, the topic was never even broached at last month's owners' meetings.
It's easy to see why other NFL owners weren't lining up to support Kraft. According to an ESPN expose, many of them feel Roger Goodell let the Patriots off too easily during Spygate, and the draconian DeflateGate sanctions served as the makeup call for that. But that kind of thinking is narrow-minded. As long as Goodell's disciplinary power remains unchecked, any team is capable of facing his wrath.
On March 9, the NFL announced it was stripping the Kansas City Chiefs of a 2016 third-round pick and 2017 sixth-round selection for allegedly tampering with Jeremy Maclin last year. In addition, the organization was docked $250,000. The punishment is severe, especially considering the Jets were merely fined $100,000 last spring for tampering with Darrelle Revis.
The Chiefs filed an appeal of the penalties, but other than the fine getting reduced to $200,000, their efforts were futile and the appeal was denied. And that's no surprise, considering Goodell heard the case. For the second consecutive year, Goodell will decide whether a punishment that he handed down is fair. Ask the Patriots and Tom Brady how that worked out.
Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt took issue with Goodell's ruling. In a statement, he said, "We continue to believe that the facts of this case combined with the league’s inconsistent enforcement of its tampering policies do not warrant the most severe penalty for player-related tampering in league history."
Though the NFL Players' Association is spearheading the fight to take away Goodell's unilateral disciplinary authority, the owners should join the crusade, too. The list of organizations that have had to deal with the commissioner's kangaroo court brand of justice grows with each passing year.
In 2012, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season over a bounty program the league appeared to grossly exaggerate. Four other players were suspended, too, but former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whom Goodell appointed as an arbiter in Bountygate, vacated all of their penalties. That same spring, the Cowboys and Washington were hit with a combined $46 million in salary cap penalties for restructuring contracts in an uncapped year. NFL owners unanimously voted against the two teams, which further empowered Goodell.
The league-funded investigation into the Dolphins' bullying scandal one year later resulted in a defamation suit, with former Miami offensive line coach Jim Turner alleging that investigator Ted Wells destroyed his reputation. The perception of the Dolphins' organization took a massive hit, too, as they became a poster child for the supposedly volatile environment of football locker rooms.
In addition to DeflateGate last year, the Atlanta Falcons lost a 2016 draft pick and were fined $350,000 for pumping artificial noise into the Georgia Dome during home games and the Cleveland Browns were punished severely for former general manager Ray Farmer texting during games.
A few influential league executives, such as Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft and 49ers CEO Jed York, have recently expressed a desire to see Goodell lose his unlimited disciplinary power. But more owners need to join them. Goodell said last month that he's open to altering the process; some pressure from his overlords may be the final push he needs.
"If we could find a better discipline system let's do it," Goodell said. "We are not close to an agreement by any stretch of the imagination on any changes to that as it relates to a third party or other individuals making those decisions, but we are open to them. We will continue to have that dialogue directly with the union and if we can come up with a better system, we'll announce it at that point."
As history shows, this isn't just the players' fight. Goodell serving as the judge, jury and executioner doesn't serve any party besides his ego. The Chiefs were just the latest team to find that out.