NFL owners gather in Chicago starting Monday to interview five candidates for commissioner and hopefully elect one of them. The vote is expected by Wednesday, but it could come as early as Tuesday with all signs pointing to the situation as little more than a formality.
Most people believe Roger Goodell, the league's chief operating officer, is a lock for the job. The basic belief is that ownership doesn't want to upset the business model after 17 years of unprecedented growth under outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Still, owners plan to be diligent in listening to the other four finalists. They are: Gregg Levy, a lawyer and partner with Covington & Burling (the same job Tagliabue held before becoming commissioner); Frederick Nance, a lawyer and partner with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey; Robert Reynolds, the vice chairman and chief operating officer for Fidelity Investments; and Mayo Shattuck, the chairman of the board and president of Constellation Energy.
"I know [the outside candidates] have been prepped … on the pressing league issues," Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said last week. "But I wouldn't expect them to have the in-depth knowledge of those issues, and I wouldn't expect them to come forward with a solution for some of those issues.
"I think the most important thing is that these outside candidates have the intellectual capacity to grasp these issues and understand the importance of these issues. They certainly have to have some understanding of the media landscape and understand how important this whole media piece is because it's our biggest revenue driver, by far."
That's why Goodell sits in the strongest position. He has been in the center of issues over content control and media growth forecasting, such as the Internet and cable television.
Said one executive: "[Goodell] has negotiated all those contracts and knows the ins and outs of that as well as anyone."
Oakland Raiders managing general partner Al Davis disagreed and said Saturday after the Hall of Fame ceremonies that he didn't consider such issues too difficult to handle. Still, that doesn't mean the other candidates couldn't make up ground. In Tagliabue's case, he was not a media expert when he started.
"[Tagliabue] came to the league 16, 17 years ago with a tremendous understanding of the league and the league issues, but media was such a small part of it," Weaver said. "What you need is, first and foremost, someone who can understand where media is going and surrounding themselves with people who are experts in those fields.
"[Tagliabue] was such a quick study that he could get in the room with people in different fields, like Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and understand that this was something that was going to be important to our business. He understood how to deal with questions such as, 'How are we going to be ready? How do we keep control of our content and make sure we don't make long-term deals that give away content that we need to aggregate?' "
Furthermore, what some people fear is that Goodell could jump ship if he's not named the next commissioner. There is also some fear that top executives Eric Grubman, Jeff Pash and Steve Bornstein also might leave if Goodell is not put in charge.
"Look at a guy like Grubman," one executive said, referring to the league's chief financial officer. "He has the freedom to do pretty much whatever he wants. I think that if a new commissioner comes in and doesn't give Grubman a really well-defined role, I think he could go do something else."
However, Davis didn't seem as worried about the possibility of losing Goodell. In fact, he believes Pash could move on after not advancing from the final 11 commissioner candidates to the final five.
"You always worry about whether people are going to leave when there isn't an automatic succession plan," Davis said. "But we'll survive just fine no matter what we do."
WHAT SHOULD BRANCH DO?
New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch continues to hold out of training camp while seeking a new contract. He and agent Jason Chayut are basically at an impasse with the Patriots, who have offered to add three years and $18 million to Branch's remaining one year at $1 million for basically a four-year, $19 million deal.
Branch has refused the offer and has said he won't report until the Patriots agree not to put the franchise tag on him at the end of the year. In so doing, Branch can be fined $14,000 per day for holding out while under contract.
What's wrong with the Patriots' offer? In essence, they are trying to retain their best receiver for less than what the Indianapolis Colts are paying No. 2 receiver Reggie Wayne. Over the offseason, Wayne signed a six-year, $40 million contract that includes $23 million over the first three years, which is the critical part of the deal.
In essence, Branch would make $4 million less over four seasons than Wayne will make in three. That doesn't even account for inflation and the expanded salary cap in 2007. That makes the Patriots' offer extremely substandard.
But the bigger problem with what New England is doing is a two-fold issue.
Second, they are putting Brady in an awkward position. Last week, a supposedly emotional Brady was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying that Branch is one of the best in the game. Brady later had to back off those comments when management (coach Bill Belichick, that is) got upset about the issue.
Thus, the Patriots are messing with their most important player, and that is unhealthy. Moreover, they are looking mighty cheap after winning three titles, which helped propel them to becoming the No. 2 team in the league last year in terms of generating revenue and profit.
- There has been some talk among owners that Goodell is too close with high-revenue owners such as Bob Kraft of New England and Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, but three high-ranking executives of small-market teams said that wasn't a major concern for them. In fact, the bigger hope is that Goodell will be more open with information. Under Tagliabue, many owners and executives said it was often difficult to get information on what the league was planning.
- Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Darren Howard had some choice words for the New Orleans government over the slow rebuilding process following Hurricane Katrina. Howard, who lived and played in New Orleans for six years before signing with the Eagles this offseason, was shocked to see the lack of progress in some areas – particularly the city's Ninth Ward, which has yet to experience a significant cleanup since Katrina.
"That's been the way of New Orleans for the longest [time]," Howard said. "I was there six years, and the way things were handled after Katrina, and the way the things are being handled now as far as the rebuilding process, it doesn't surprise me. The government was always subpar. You have crooked people running the city – crooked cops and all kinds of stuff. People are just catching on to it now because of the national attention from Katrina."
- Agent Leigh Steinberg introduced quarterback Warren Moon at the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Their friendship dates to their high school days in Los Angeles.
Beyond Moon, Steinberg has had a total of three former clients and quarterbacks join the Hall the past two years (Steve Young made it last year, Troy Aikman this year). For all that glory, Steinberg's days as an agent appear to be receding.
A reorganization of his firm is expected to be announced early this week. Agents Bruce and Ryan Tollner are expected to have a more significant say in the operation of the agency, which will be called Rep One. Steinberg is expected to remain as a consultant with the firm.
Asked about it on Saturday, Steinberg said there's no announcement at this point but said all members of the firm would remain.
- Good news from South Florida: A close friend of Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said he and wife Katina, who also is the sister of middle linebacker Zach Thomas, have reconciled to the point that they are living together again. It's unclear if Katina Taylor has withdrawn her divorce filing, but the friend said that the couple is working exceptionally hard to fix their marriage.
- The NFLPA sometimes likes to discount the thoughts of its rank and file, but both linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Steve McNair of the Baltimore Ravens expressed concern about the trend of top rookies such as Mario Williams, Reggie Bush and Vince Young getting such large amounts of guaranteed money. All three received more than $25.7 million in guarantees, passing 2005 No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, who received $24 million in guaranteed money.
"This is the only league that pays for potential and not what you've done for me," Lewis said. "The NBA, they govern when you first come into the league on how much you can make. That's the way it should be. Now, after I've proven that I'm able to do this, I'm able to do that, I'm able to win you championships, now my stock goes up instantly. That's why you see NBA players sometimes sign $200 and $300 million contracts. That's why you see [Alex Rodriguez] sign a $252 million contract. Not because he came in as a rookie; it's because of what he was able to prove in his business.
"The saddest part about this business is that when you know truthfully the dollars that you generate, that you see none of that … it's kind of like highway robbery. I would hope they would fix it before my eyes close and I go to heaven."
McNair agreed, but he got to the point a little quicker when asked if the system has to change.
"In the long run, yes," he said.