NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addresses the media at Super Bowl LII.
USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS – This is why the NFL owners pay Roger Goodell the big bucks. It’s why Jerry Jones could rant and rave all season long about the commissioner’s new contract and it was never going to amount to anything.
Goodell was at his Teflon best Wednesday, his annual state of the NFL news conference having all the excitement of a quilting convention. Less, actually, given there’s at least the slight chance a stray needle could draw blood at a quilting convention.
The NFL’s abysmal record on minority coaching hires. Colin Kaepernick’s inexcusable exclusion from the league. President Donald Trump’s continued attacks on players who protest to draw attention to social justice issues. Concerns about the long-term impact of head trauma.
Goodell took all those questions on and somehow managed to answer not a single one directly. He didn’t say anything stupid as he has in years past, and he didn’t create any controversy. This was a season that careened from one controversy to another, yet anyone who didn’t know any better would have left Goodell’s half-hour session thinking it had been all rainbows and puppy dogs.
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Which is exactly what the owners want from their expensive flak jacket.
Goodell is a lightning rod for criticism, often by his own doing. His discipline of the players has been heavy-handed and inconsistent. He’s been obstinate when it comes to head trauma and its long-term consequences. When he does speak in public, he has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth.
But he takes the hits so the owners and the league don’t have to. Anger and criticism is directed his way, not theirs.
When a reporter asked Goodell about the Rooney Rule, which is designed to increase opportunities for minority coaching and front-office candidates, the questioner prefaced it by saying he probably should be asking the owners but couldn’t because they weren’t front and center like the commissioner was.
“I’m sort of used to that,” Goodell said, smirking slightly.
When owners decided last May to renew Goodell’s contract – unanimously, no less – they were no doubt influenced by the fact he’s overseen an explosion of revenues that have further raised the values of every franchise.
But his willingness to be their guard dog and gate keeper couldn’t have hurt, either.
On Wednesday, for instance, Goodell faced two questions on whether the NFL plans to change its policies to either curb the player protests during the national anthem or circumvent them altogether by not having teams on the field for that portion of the pregame process. He deflected both so deftly I’m still not sure what the answer is.
Same with a question on Kaepernick’s status.
It was five years ago this week that Kaepernick was at the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers, and Aaron Rodgers is still the only quarterback with a lower career interception rate. He put up decent stats last season on an otherwise horrid 49ers team, throwing for 2,241 yards and 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions in 12 games.
Yet Kaepernick, who began the player protest movement in 2016, remains unemployed while the likes of Tom Savage, Brock Osweiler, T.J. Yates, Josh Johnson, Austin Davis and Josh Woodrum all had jobs this season.
Goodell said that wasn’t a league matter and that each of the 32 teams decides what’s best for their respective roster. Besides, Goodell said, Kaepernick has a grievance pending against the NFL, so he couldn’t say much more.
And on and on it went. It was so uncontentious a few owners even hung out to talk with reporters afterward instead of high-tailing it out of the room as they did last year.
Asked if this is the most drama-free Super Bowl he’s seen, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft laughed.
“Up to this point it is,” he said.
Say what you want about Goodell, but he knows exactly what his job his. When he talks about the shield, he’s referring to the NFL logo. But he might as well be talking about himself.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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