Goodell’s play with Jets looks to be out of bounds
One of Roger Goodell’s enduring legacies as NFL commissioner — after this labor situation — will be the personal conduct policy he put in place in 2007 and his personal involvement in it.
While there’s little doubt Goodell’s heart has been in the right place in regards to the policy, there’s now some evidence that perhaps his level of involvement needs to be reevaluated.
Goodell’s participation with Santonio Holmes and the Jets in 2010 seems to have crossed a line, if Rex Ryan’s depiction of the episode is accurate in his book, “Play Like You Mean It.’’
Here is how Ryan explains the situation on Page 174:
“The first thing I did with Holmes, right after we traded for him, is I called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; I’m lucky, because he’s right up the road in New York. I called him and said, ‘Roger, I need your help. Can you come down and spend an afternoon here?’ He asked what I needed, so I told him that once we got Holmes, I wanted Goodell to come down and talk with Holmes after one of our mini-camps.’’
No problem so far.
To provide some context, Holmes was traded from the Steelers to the Jets on April 11, 2010. Two days later, the league announced that Holmes would be suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Holmes had had a handful of off-field incidents.
So Ryan asking Goodell to help set Holmes straight was something that would totally be in line with how Goodell operates his conduct policy.
“Every investigation, arrest, or other allegation of improper conduct undermines the respect for our league by our fans, lessens the confidence of our business partners, and threatens the continued success of our brand,’’ Goodell wrote in a memo to teams when the policy was enacted.
As far as Goodell’s personal involvement, it has been a mixed bag. It helped certain players, notably Michael Vick and Tank Johnson, but failed with others, such as Pacman Jones and Chris Henry.
It’s hard to fault Goodell for wanting to help a player be the best he can be, and he has invested his own time to see that through on a number of occasions. But that’s not exactly what transpired with the Jets, according to Ryan, and not how he explained his vision for the meeting to Goodell beforehand.
“Then I said [to Goodell], ‘I’d like for you to try to bring [Holmes] closer to me.’ Goodell said okay, but he wanted to know what I had in mind. I said, ‘When the three of us sit down, I want you to take the first 10 minutes of the conversation to rip my ass in front of Santonio — about what I’ve done off the field, how I’ve embarrassed the league. That is all true about me.’’ (Ryan had been fined $50,000 by Goodell two months earlier for making an obscene gesture to fans at an MMA event.)
“Then I asked if he would turn and give both barrels to Holmes. I wanted the commissioner to let Santonio know he hadn’t done what he should, either, in being a good employee of the NFL.
“My goal was that at the end of that conversation, Goodell would leave. . . and Santonio and I would be left in the same boat. I wanted him to know that we needed to be better, not just for the league, but for each other.
“Anyway, Goodell made that trip to my office and he chewed us out, and I think it actually brought Holmes and me closer . . . All of a sudden, I have a bond going with Holmes. Maybe I played it up a little, but it was all true . . . I wanted Holmes to understand I’m going to be in there fighting for him and I need him fighting for me.
“You should see it now; we’re as close as I’ve ever been with a guy after this much. He’ll come over during practice and we’ll put an arm around each other. It worked . . . Santonio bought in. Thanks to a little help from Commissioner Goodell!’’
There is no problem with Goodell ripping Ryan, even if doing so in front of a player is unusual. The coach was right: He had it coming.
There is nothing wrong with Goodell taking Holmes to the woodshed, even in front of Ryan.
But combining the two as a scheme devised by a coach?
Ryan is not at fault. It was a smart move on his part and, as he said, it did work.
But what business is it of the commissioner to help “bring a player closer’’ to his coach?
At the spring owners meeting in Indianapolis, an interview with Goodell was requested so he could explain his view of what happened. Instead, a hasty 71-second walk-and-talk was conducted.
Goodell said he agreed to take part in the exercise for “personal conduct’’ reasons.
Asked how helping a coach get the best out of a player falls under “personal conduct,’’ Goodell said, “Well, that does help a player and does help a coach.’’
But this tilted more toward the commissioner providing a competitive advantage to a team, even if he wasn’t cognizant of it.
The ability to interact with your players, and to get them to play at the top of their ability, is as much a part of a coach’s skill set as drawing up a game plan. Would Goodell ever give Ryan tips on how to defend Tom Brady? Of course not. So he shouldn’t be lending a hand in his relationships with his players.
“I don’t look at it that way,’’ said Goodell. “I look at is as I was asked to try to help a young man who I like very much, and we’re going to continue to try to do whatever we can to make sure that he’s in the best position to continue his career and do the right things on and off the field.’’
When told that’s not how Ryan characterized the interaction, Goodell said, “I haven’t seen the way Rex characterized it. That’s the way I’m characterizing it.’’
(A copy of the book had been provided to the NFL more than 24 hours before the interview so Goodell could comment on the passage.)
Would Goodell have been as willing to travel all the way to Seattle for a 20-minute meeting to help Seahawks coach Pete Carroll forge a bond with running back Marshawn Lynch? Would Goodell be willing to do such a thing for all 32 teams?
If the answer to either question is “no’’ or even “maybe,’’ then Goodell shouldn’t have done it for the Jets. It sets a terrible precedent.
And it hands more evidence to those in the league who already feel that the in-the-neighborhood Jets (and Giants) receive preferential treatment from 280 Park Avenue. Some thought the Jets got off lightly in the incidents involving Ines Sainz, Jenn Sterger, and Sal Alosi.
The fact is, when the Holmes meeting occurred, the relationship between the Jets and the NFL was very contentious. Less than a month earlier, Jets owner Woody Johnson released a statement that ripped the league for holding the coin toss to determine the host of the first game in New Meadowlands Stadium without either the Jets or Giants present.
Perhaps Goodell was trying to smooth things over by agreeing to Ryan’s request. Regardless, he should have declined the invitation. Goodell simply should have offered to meet with Holmes privately.
The other issue with Goodell’s involvement (and, for that matter, Ryan’s) was that this appeared to be a contrived situation, held under false pretenses, where the player was the only one not clued in. That’s disingenuous.
Joel Segal, Holmes’s agent, said he was unaware of the meeting and declined comment.
Goodell disagreed that Holmes was misled.
“That’s not true,’’ Goodell said. “Rex had had an issue publicly, and so did Santonio. And he asked me to make sure I addressed both of them, which I did. That’s what the personal conduct policy is about. It applies to everybody.’’
The personal conduct policy is Goodell’s baby and will be a big part of his legacy. He has obviously been personally involved with its implementation, and his motives should not be questioned in that respect. He seems to genuinely care about the players and wants to see them succeed for the good of the game.
But when something means a lot to you personally, sometimes the lines become blurred and you cross them.We’re all in favor of Goodell wanting the best for his teams, and providing his services to help them. But not if it results in him giving an advantage to one team.
The most interesting passage had to do with the Jets’ 28-21 victory in the playoffs last season.
Ryan said he used his “me against Belichick’’ message as a way of keeping his team’s mind off the 45-3 regular-season loss to the Patriots. That was fairly obvious at the time.
As for the game plan to confuse Tom Brady, Ryan said much of it centered around the Patriots’ inability to stretch the field after they traded Randy Moss.
“We were going to play mostly coverage,’’ Ryan wrote. “We were going to mix in a few more blitzes, but it was really going to be a lot of loaded zones. We were going to make Tom Brady work his ass off. We were going to make him have to be perfect. And we were going to make him make mistakes.
“Without Randy Moss, the Patriots didn’t have the same vertical threat to their offense, and we planned to show them how much that hurt their offense by constantly challenging the short stuff.’’
Ryan’s many comments about Moss in the book only enhance the circumstantial evidence that the Jets will go after the free agent if they can’t retain Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.
Patriots fans also received a colorful comment from Ryan for their behavior toward him after the 45-3 game.
“They ran up the score and they talked trash to us,’’ Ryan said. “Their fans were complete [expletives] to us. They let us have it. I’ve never had my butt kicked like that in my life.’’
Ryan placed much of the blame on his team’s performance on the broken leg suffered by safety Jim Leonhard two days before the game.
“We had put in a very complicated scheme for that week against New England and Leonhard was on top of it,’’ Ryan said. “As soon as Leonhard got hurt, I still thought we could win, but I know that I was confused for a little while about how we were going to do that. I think the players picked up on that confusion. It doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics for guys to pick up on what I’m feeling.’’
Other Patriots tidbits:
On the outcome of the playoff game: “Trust me, Pittsburgh was the happiest team in the world when we beat New England, because the Patriots would have spread them out and beat the crap out of the Steelers.’’
On the fallout from “Hard Knocks’’ and hating Brady: “For some reason, other coaches and players, such as Tony Dungy, Tom Brady and Terry Bradshaw, felt that they had a right to judge me based off something they saw on TV . . . Brady spoke out and said he hated us as well as the show. Well, guess what? We hate the Patriots. What’s your point? It’s about competition . . . Do I really hate Tom Brady? I really don’t know Tom Brady, but who wouldn’t hate him? Look at his life. Actually, look at his wife. Every man in America hates Tom Brady, and he should be proud of that.’’
On Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth and 2 at Indianapolis in 2009: “[Most NFL coaches] are scared to do what they think might really be right, because they think they’ll be second-guessed and lose their jobs. That’s why all those people who second-guessed Belichick . . . didn’t have a clue.
“Yeah, it didn’t work, but are you seriously telling me that anybody could know his team better than Belichick? He’s the best out there. I have total respect for him. I’m not kissing his rings and I’m not afraid of him, but I respect him.’’
On the Jets’ pursuit of free agent linebacker Jason Taylor: “Bill Belichick up in New England was calling him every day, leaving him messages, hoping to get him to the Patriots.’’
On John Harbaugh getting the Ravens job over Ryan: “[Ravens owner Steve] Bisciotti got a call from Belichick telling him Harbaugh was great. That’s a pretty great recommendation.’’
On Belichick’s decision to take the Jets coaching job, then resign with a handwritten note: “Whatever it was he wrote, it didn’t go over so hot.’’
Another interesting passage in the book concerned the Jets’ “dotting’’ of an opposing player before each game.
“Players don’t want to be dotted by the New York Jets, because that means we want that dude knocked out of the game,’’ said Ryan, who acknowledged that this would remind people of the bounty system his father, Buddy Ryan, had as a coach. “Of course, it has to be legal and by the rule book. We don’t play dirty, and no way will we intentionally hurt a player with an illegal, cheap shot.’’
Even so, Ryan should expect the league office to look a little closer at some of his team’s hits from now on.
What deserves no patience from the public is the decision of both the league and about a third of the teams at this point to cut the pay of their workers, from assistant coaches and scouts (who are truly an underclass in the NFL), to secretaries and other office workers.
The Patriots have not implemented any pay reductions to this point.
It would be understandable if it were just a few teams in smaller markets that struggle even in good times, but this is becoming more widespread by the day.
That this is happening in May — before much, if any, revenue is affected by the labor impasse — says the owners expect the lockout to last a while. At the least they want the players to think that.
And that makes these workers financial hostages. It isn’t their battle, but they have been caught in the cross fire.
NFL owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, which was their right, in 2008. They did so because they made a bad deal in 2006. Thirty of the 32 owners voted for the deal.
If they want to get out of the deal, fine. But they should pay the price for their own mistake, not pass it on to employees. But that’s what the NFL is doing, with the backing of commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We told everybody, this is a collective sacrifice,’’ Goodell said. “We are going through a difficult period of time and we do it together.’’
That is an ignorant statement and probably enraged more than a few employees.
When the NFL decides to share its record-breaking profits collectively with workers, then it can start to talk about collective sacrifice in leaner times.
But that will never happen. Profits go directly into the pockets of the league and owners. But when losses come, owners conveniently put one hand into their pockets and use the other to take money from the little people.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.