The Mutiny Over The Bounty is now reaching the silly stage, which is right about the time to ask the question, What exactly is the league trying to do here?
If its to reinforce the new safety regime, then it has to not only crush the New Orleans Saints ex post facto, but aggressively seek other teams who have done the same.
If its to show the legal profession that it isnt vulnerable to safety lawsuits from ex-players, it may work some. Legal experts differ on the efficacy of this tactic, and Ill leave the cakehole-flapping to them.
If its to punish Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis for being annoying, Roger Goodell has opened a pandoras box that would clean out most executive levels of most team buildings.
But if, and were just spitballing here, it is to slap the coaches into line on issues like safety, or more comprehensively, to trim their sails the way most baseball managers got theirs cut back, then the league had better come heavy or not at all.
There is no figure in American sport more monumentally imperious than the NFL head coach. Each one behaves with a sense of entitlement and power that supercedes even most law books. They want what they want when they want it, and woe betide those who dont provide it swiftly enough.
Payton is one of those, with oak leaf clusters. He gave New Orleans a Super Bowl, and essentially runs everything that Tom Benson cant reach. And while he wouldnt necessarily be considered more of a noodge than most, he is vulnerable because of the bounty program he knew about and indirectly promoted.
Yet it is hard to see how the league could make a ban on bounties stick without policing every team every day in every meeting and watering hole, so surely Goodell has come to understand that going so public with the issue makes no superficial sense. The league cannot win this unless the players and coaches eliminate the practice out of fear of retribution.
And that takes us to now, four days later, with the Saints on fire and the football abuzz over what the next shoe will be, and from what height it will be dropped.
This has a chance to be a true internal firestorm for the league, because Goodell cannot stop the leagues investigation with the Saints without looking like a dupe who chose selective enforcement over sweeping cultural change. After all, the league chose this fight on its own, independently and without prodding.
In short, if Goodell wants to win, he has to go all the way, all four limbs flailing with menace and purpose. And that seems like more than any commissioner can be allowed by his employers to do. Ask Fay Vincent how independent lawgiving worked out.
So if this is a practical loser, what dies Goodell get out of it? A show that the league is trying to fight for safety by cracking down on one well-established bounty scheme? Cant see how a plaintiffs lawyer would swallow that one with the mountains of evidence that most teams have engaged in same over the years.
Or is it to scare the hell out of Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis to send a message to the other 31 coaches and general managers that they are employees too, and their loyalty tests are being recalibrated for great strictness?
It makes more sense than Goodell crusading to stamp out the influence of the evil Gregg Williams -- a fry of considerable smallness. Its bazookas on hummingbirds.
So just as an alternative to what seems to be a dead-end for the league, lets consider the possibility that this is a message to stamp out some sort of behavior considered rampant, and since stamping out bounties is pretty much a long-shot, one can only guess as to what the real aim is. And our guess is this:
To do yet again for the owners what they never want seen to be doing themselves administering worker discipline and consequences. The owners dont know team-building, but they do know liability exposure, and this is a hell of a gap in the shield. To hammer the Saints with both hands may get the message across to the other recalcitrants that the sheriff doesnt just enforce player law, but coaches and general manager law as well.
I mean, what else could there be? Fear of slow news days before the draft?
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.