The NFL’s true powerbroker resides at 1 Patriot Place instead of 345 Park Avenue, according to NFL Players’ Association head DeMaurice Smith.
In a lengthy recent Washington Post profile, Smith talks about his fraught working relationship with Roger Goodell. The combative Smith, who replaced the clubby Gene Upshaw as NFLPA head in 2009, oversaw the union during the prolonged 2011 NFL lockout. The collective bargaining agreement will expire at the end of the 2020 season, potentially setting off another work stoppage.
Basically, Smith describes Goodell as a glorified errand boy for the league’s 31 billionaire owners, who use him as a highly-priced human shield. Goodell, for his part, appears to embrace his role as the league’s faux gatekeeper. During their first dinner together, Smith says the commissioner “slid across the table a lapel pin in the shape of the NFL’s red, white and blue shield.”
While Goodell may be the person to call upon for NFL-sponsored formal wear accessories, Smith says it’s futile to call him about any issue of significance. Over time, Smith has learned to appeal directly to the league’s most powerful owners, such as Robert Kraft or Jerry Jones.
“Smith suggests Goodell, despite his reputation, actually possesses little real influence on the league’s agenda,” the Post’s Kent Babb writes. “Calling the commissioner, Smith says, usually leads to Goodell reaching out to a key franchise owner — often Kraft or Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — so if Smith now wants to resolve something, he might spend 20 minutes talking with Goodell and three hours directly lobbying an owner.”
Kraft, for his part, has positive things to say about Smith –– calling him “very intelligent” and lauding his understanding of economics. Given one of the more contentious issues in the next round of CBA negotiations promises to be the viability of an 18-game regular season, and the economics surrounding it, their relationship will likely take on an even greater importance.
Remember: it was Kraft who was credited for engineering the end of the lockout last time around. It looks like the Patriots’ owner will once again be a key figure in negotiations.