The Commissioner is safe, but are his lieutenants?

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

To the extent Cowboys owner Jerry Jones struck a deal to back away from his effort to overthrow the NFL’s emperor, it’s unknown what Jones got in return.

One carrot for Jones could be a promise to dramatically revise and revamp the layer of management that resides below Goodell. For several years, there has been talk that, while some believe Goodell is very good at what he does, some think his team isn’t as good as it needs to be.

And so it’s not surprising that Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com has named names regarding possible changes at the top of the organization, but not at the very top.

Per Breer, COO Tod Leiweke, chief marketing officer Dawn Hudson, special counsel Lisa Friel, and executive vice president of health and safety Jeff Miller “are among those whose roles could change significantly (if they’re not out).” Breer also points out that general counsel Jeff Pash “is another figure some owners are disillusioned with, but his value on the labor front will likely protect him.”

The presence of Leiweke’s name on the list is surprising. He’s a fairly recent arrival, and the reviews regarding his work had been positive. The absence of names like spokesman Joe Lockhart and executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent is a little surprising, too, given persistent chatter regarding concerns from some owners as to their roles and their performance. (Lockhart did himself no favors by declaring on Wednesday that the new Goodell contract will be his last, followed by Goodell contradicting that assessment of the situation.)

What’s not surprising is the identification of Friel as a potentially future former employee. Jones reportedly argued with her a year ago, in the early stages of the Ezekiel Elliott investigation. Her work has been called into question on multiple occasions, both as to the Elliott case and as to the Josh Brown fiasco, and at least one federal judge has dropped a damning footnote into a court order regarding a perceived lack of credibility while testifying under oath.

Pash has been the subject  of persistent concern and complaints among some owners for multiple years. Hired by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who didn’t want or need an ultra-strong consigliere because Tagliabue was an accomplished attorney, Pash has remained in place with Goodell for more than a decade. (Some believe Goodell kept Pash because Goodell viewed Pash as not a threat to Goodell’s position.) And while the league has had plenty of success during lawyer-led efforts like collective bargaining negotiations and various important items of litigation, Pash has at times been regarded as the custodian of the league’s bulldog approach to any and all actual or perceived foes, with a desire to win at all times often supplanting broader business objectives that may support the concept of taking a periodic “L” in order to advance the greater good.

It’s possible that Pash has simply been doing what Goodell wants him to do. Plenty of executives wants lawyers who tell the executives what they want to hear, and they’ll keep hiring and firing lawyers until they happily fill that role. Pash’s survival for the full extent of Goodell’s tenure suggests that, by and large, he’s doing what the boss wants him to do.

Another factor that could directly impact Pash’s future with the league will be the NFLN sexual harassment lawsuit, especially if it becomes the first of multiple claims arising from what allegedly was, based on the existing claim, a sex-obsessed operation with both the bosses and the workers engaged in various forms of inappropriate conduct. Someone at 345 Park Avenue should have known that a broadcast operation on the other side of the country staffed by former players whose only other offices in their lives were a locker room might become the Delta Tau Chi house, and that someone ultimately is Pash.

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