Week 10 of the NFL was full of drama both on and off the field, so let’s get right to the biggest stories of this past weekend and beyond.
“This S— Should Be Illegal”: There are a lot of things I think should be outlawed.
Civil forfeiture. Clickbait. Private prisons. The “Transformers” franchise. Oh, and Thursday Night Football.
They’re all terrible in their own terribly special ways, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Thursday Night Football. For starters, the whole “Color Rush” promotion for these games, where teams wear special-edition uniforms of one full color has damaged my eyes and stricken my soul. Whether it’s the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards-slime-colored uniforms the Seahawks wore against Arizona or the Dolphins’ Agent Orange disgrace or this preposterously purple Baltimore look, no one should be forced to watch a football game with grown men dressed like ice cream. In a sport that’s already injury-prone, especially this season, why would the NFL schedule games earlier in the week? Players have less time to rest their bodies and get treatment, and they are forced to play a game on only four days rest. Just this past Thursday, Seattle lost six starters, including All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who ruptured his Achilles and will be out for the rest of the season. Meanwhile Arizona lost three players to injury Thursday, and players are forced to suit up for games on a short week to take hits like this.
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin had a big game in Seattle’s 22-16 road win over the Arizona Cardinals this past Thursday night, but he was far from a happy camper afterwards. When asked about playing on Thursday nights, Baldwin said, “This s– should be illegal. It is not OK. It’s not OK. You can quote me on that. This is not OK. … Absolutely, guys do not have enough time to recover. You can’t recover in four days.”
It’s time the NFL put an end to this charade — or at least reform the current scheduling system to give the players more time to rest before the game. Perhaps have a bye week for teams scheduled for a Thursday night game during the week before; that way the NFL keeps its money, and the players stay safe. Either way, the NFL will have to decide if the billion-dollar-plus TV deal with NBC, CBS and Amazon that ends after this season will be worth renewing, considering the risk to player health and the competitive decline due to a shorter week and more injuries.
Case Keenum Lifts Vikings To Top of NFC North: Perpetual backup quarterback Case Keenum played like a starter Sunday. Minnesota cruised to a 38-30 victory over the Washington Redskins and their fifth-straight win behind Keenum’s fantastic performance of four touchdowns to four different receivers and 304 yards passing. He had two bad interceptions but his overall performance proved that he deserved the Vikings’ starting job for the time being, even if former starter Teddy Bridgewater is back and finally healthy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, Minnesota. Another unexpectedly spectacular performance came from Vikings wideout Adam Thielen, who had eight receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings currently sit at 7-2 and atop the NFC North, with few serious division challengers in sight. They’ll be tested at home this coming Sunday when they take on Jared Goff and the streaking Rams, and then they will have three straight road games in Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina. If the Vikings can survive that gauntlet, Minnesota will have guaranteed themselves a spot in the playoffs and will perhaps challenge Philadelphia for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Meanwhile the Redskins confirmed that “they are who we thought they were” — just an average team. The ‘Skins fell to 4-5 on the season and a troubling 2-3 record at home as the leaky Washington defense gave up big plays all day Sunday and didn’t rush the quarterback effectively. Kirk Cousins had an uneven performance, throwing for 327 yards, a touchdown and an interception and completing 26 of 45 attempts. All in all, it was the kind of showing you’d expect from this forgettable roster.
Can you smell that Redskins fans? I love the smell of 8-8 in the middle of November.
The Jerry Jones-Roger Goodell Beef Keeps Getting Juicier: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to fabulous NFL headquarters at 345 Park Avenue! You are going to witness one of the most consequential matchups of all time and an epic battle for the title of “Heavyweight Negotiator of the World”! In the right corner, in a navy blue Armani suit, standing at 3 foot 8 inches tall and 94 pounds, put your hands together for the fighter from Little Rock, Arkansas — Jerry “Scotch and Soda” Jones! In the left corner, standing at 5 foot 11 and weighing in at 200 pounds, in a charcoal Hugo Boss suit, the brawler from Bronxville, give it up for Roger “The Authority” Goodell! Football fans, are you ready to rumble?! *Cue the air horns.*
This has been one of the strangest, most controversial NFL seasons to date but something I never saw coming was the Jones-Goodell beef. It’s always tragic to watch two old friends become enemies. Whether it’s Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar or Peter Parker and Harry Osborn, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian or Tupac and Biggie, go down the list of history and literature, and you’ll find many friends-turned-enemies. Goodell and Jones are just the latest to fall to one of the oldest tropes known to man, but why did it start in the first place?
We have to go way back to August of this year, when Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was accused of domestic violence and the NFL responded by slapping the star running back with a six-game suspension for the 2017 season. What followed was a chaotic back-and-forth appeal process that finally concluded last week with Elliot finally having to serve the six-game suspension. Needless to say, this whole ordeal really pissed Jones off because a) He’s owner of the Dallas Cowboys and b) Jones believes Goodell lied to him about Elliott’s suspension — chiefly that there wouldn’t be one in the first place. Jones called that “an unforgivable breach of trust” and is now craving old-fashioned revenge on the commissioner. Lucky for Jones, Goodell currently happens to be up for a contract extension, providing the Dallas czar the perfect opportunity for retribution.
Goodell wants a five-year extension, which would leave him in place through 2024, including the next round of collective bargaining agreement negotiations in 2021. His salary is no longer a matter of public record since the NFL relinquished its nonprofit status in 2015, but in the past, his yearly salary was $44 million in 2014 and $34 million in 2015. The negotiations have been focused now on making them even more incentive-based — around 88 percent according to the New York Times — and have been overseen by a six-person compensation committee of owners, which includes Patriots owner Robert Kraft and committee chairman Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, but Jones and a few other owners believe that the incentives are so vague that Goodell’s pay wouldn’t fluctuate at all, no matter what happened. A suspiciously timed report was leaked to Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN, which claimed that Goodell had asked for $49.5 million a year, a private jet and lifetime health insurance for his family. Both the league and Blank denied the report.
After Elliott’s suspension, Jones, who was originally on the compensation committee (in a nonvoting role), lobbied to pause negotiations and alter the commissioner’s new deal. He then held a conference call with a handful of owners not on the committee, but that failed to galvanize any further opposition. So, he then went back to the committee and threatened legal action against his fellow committee members, who then responded by removing him. A unanimous vote by owners in May, which included Jones, approved the six-person committee, but Jones is now arguing the contract needs to go back to all 32 owners because of Goodell’s poor performance, which includes a ratings decline, player protests, suspension discrepancies, etc. Goodell is reportedly “furious” over Jones’ meddling, according to OTL. Jones is now spearheading a #RESISTANCE movement against the commissioner, in an effort to change the current two-thirds majority vote needed to approve a new deal to a three-quarters majority, which would give Jones small voting bloc veto power. Jones claims that Blank was not honest about the details of the deal, that it’s moved away from incentives and that there isn’t unanimous approval of the deal which contradicts Blank’s assertions that there is. The NFL responded with a diss record of their own, spittin’ some vicious bars in response to Jones and saying “Your description of the current extension is so at odds with the actual facts that we can only conclude that you are either misinformed or seek deliberately to mislead the other owners.” THAT WAS FUEGO! Jones, the committee and the league are all pushing hard to finish the deal or form a coalition before one side can stop the other.
Could Jones actually take down “The Authority”? The Cowboys owner certainly can point to the games’ declining ratings, the league being used as a front in a culture war and the commissioner’s unfair position as judge, jury and executioner — but will that be enough? For all his faults, Goodell is a known commodity in the eyes of the owners, and replacing him with an unknown — or worse, a pawn for Jones — would be a hell of a risk. The owners want someone experienced at the next round of CBA negotiations, which should be even more contentious than the previous one, and only Goodell can meet that standard. Jones is a powerful owner — he orchestrated the moves to Los Angeles and Las Vegas and is seen as the “de facto commissioner” by many — but he may have flown too close to the sun this time around. My money’s on Goodell in this fight, but I wouldn’t be shocked either if Jones somehow got his way — and God help us if he does. Who knows where things will lead in this crazy melodrama, so we might as well sit back and get that popcorn ready. It’s going down.
Rory O’Toole writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].