Saturday, June 28, 2008

Roger Goodell Hates Jake Long

Goodell on rookie pay: "There's something wrong."

Evidently tired of his role as the NFL's vice cop, Commissioner Roger Goodell has decided to become its salary scold. Friday, he took the extraordinary step of telling the media that one of the league's players, Dolphins' rookie left tackle Jake Long, is dramatically overpaid.

Goodell referred to Michigan tackle Jake Long's five-year, $57.75 million contract -- with $30 million guaranteed. Long was the first overall draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in April.

"He doesn't have to play a down in the NFL and he already has his money," Goodell said during a question-and-answer period at the end of a weeklong sports symposium at the Chautauqua Institution. "Also, his face is really weird."

OK, I made that last part up, but the rest is legit. Long wasn't quoted in the story, but I certainly hope he'll respond by saying, "Interesting. And I find it ridiculous that Goodell made $11.7 million last year despite the NFL Network fiasco and completely botching the entire Spygate saga. Also, his face is really weird."

Goodell, who was speaking at something called the Chautauqua Institution, which sounds like a mental hospital named after an Indian chief, didn't restrict his remarks to telling Jake Long that he made too much money. His greater point was that all NFL rookies make too much money, and the poor owners simply can't afford it any more.

"Now, with the economics where they are, the consequences if you don't evaluate that player, you can lose a significant amount of money. And that money is not going to players that are performing. It's going to a player that never makes it in the NFL. And I think that's ridiculous."

There's probably some legitimacy to the idea of a standard NFL rookie contract based on the NBA's system. College football stars might be more inclined to stay in school for their senior year if they know they're restricted to a three year, $10 million contract for being chosen in the top 10.

But the NFL's brass doesn't have the credibility to demand that its players make less money. Goodell's a smart guy. He knows he can earn blue collar cred with the average fan by raging against player salaries. No one ever lost popularity by saying athletes make too much money. But the NFL, even more than the other leagues, is a cutthroat operation. Contracts aren't guaranteed. Teams take young, athletic players, feed them through the meat grinder until they're no longer useful, and spit out crippled shadows. Running backs retire at 34 and spend the rest of their lives walking with a cane.

So if Jake Long can guarantee himself $30 million when he enters the league, it's not for Roger Goodell to scold him for it. By the time the league's through with Long, he'll need every cent of that money.

If the NFL wants to make progress on this issue, they need to make a grand conciliatory gesture toward its gladiator class. Come to the NFL Players Association with an offer of guaranteed contracts, and then I can take his concern for the players who are "performing" seriously.

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