At some point on or after March 2027, Roger Goodell will no longer be the Commissioner of the National Football League. No one knows when that moment will arrive.
One of the most important things NFL owners and Goodell must do in the coming months is begin to figure out when the train will pull into the station.
It's a delicate issue, to be sure. Goodell will not want the perception to arise that he's having the door closed on him, Robert Dunder-style. But the owners don't want to be left high and dry if there isn't someone who has been recruited and hired for the purposes of eventually stepping into the job that only three people have held since 1960.
Jonathan Jones of CBSSports.com addressed this issue over the weekend. He writes that owners "are interested in finally putting together a succession plan" for Goodell.
Frankly, the plan should already be in place. Goodell will be 68 in 2027. He has not said his new contract will be his last contract. And when former league spokesman Joe Lockhart tried to say that Goodell's most recent deal would be his last one, Goodell disagreed.
When this one ends, he could choose to stay. Or he could choose to go. At some point, the owners will want to know when he's going, so that they can work backward and plan for it.
And if he's not sure what he's going to do come 2027, why would he welcome the opportunity to identify and groom his successor? Human nature calls for resisting the initiation of a process that would ultimately give him no option to stay.
As Jones correctly notes, there currently is no "clear successor" to Goodell, either inside or outside the building. Names emerge from time to time, but Goodell keeps going. And when the name that pops up is attached to someone in the building (e.g., Dean Blandino, Tod Leiweke, Maryann Turcke, Chris Halpin), that person typically doesn't remain in the building for long.
In 2006, Goodell eventually won the job after multiple ballots involving him and four other candidates — Gregg Levy, Frederick Nance, Robert Reynolds and Mayo Shattuck III. Goodell eventually won on the fifth ballot.
Even though it wasn't as simple as it might seem to have been in hindsight, Goodell had been preparing himself for the job (and he was being prepared for it) for years. There's currently no one who will be in position to combine years of experience and knowledge of the business with the ability to perform the duties effectively for 20 years or longer.
The owners need to find someone with the skills, experience, and viable remaining work-life. They need to be able to provide that someone with a date certain as to when the next step will be taken. And they need to get the current Commissioner to be on board with the date on which he'll give up the only job he ever wanted — the job that he will have held for nearly a third of his life if he leaves in 2027.
However it happens, it won't be easy. And there's a chance that, whenever Goodell finally does leave, they won't be as ready as they could or should have been to turn the page.