Roger Goodell first took over as the NFL commissioner in the 2006 season. The early part of his tenure was decent, other than the Spygate controversy the league was doing fine. Then it started turning for the worst at the start of the new CBA. The owners voided the CBA deal negotiated in 2006 and the player lockout consumed the news cycle for the entire summer. At the end of the lockout, the players wound up caving to the NFL and the team owners because the players needed to be able to play the game to make ends meet. After Goodell and the owners took the NFLPA to the woodshed in the negotiations, the new CBA gave Goodell unprecedented powers.
Point #2: Roger Goodell and the NFL Power Structure from the Owners to Goodell
Even through that point, the commissioner was on solid ground with the NFL until the concussion and Ray Rice issues showed up in the 2014 offseason. We all know how Goodell handled that case. When the video leaked out to the public, that really started to eat at Goodell's credibility. It takes a long time to build that kind of credibility and it only takes one instance to demolish it. After the Rice fiasco, the next big story was the Adrian Peterson saga and the new domestic violence policy that had Goodell overcompensating for the failures on Ray Rice. Goodell tried to suspend Rice and Peterson under the new policy, but those suspensions were overturned in federal court. Ray Rice is out of the league and Adrian Peterson is the lead running back for the Vikings again.
After getting his butt handed to him on a silver platter in court in both the Rice and Peterson cases, the drama of Deflategate busted out. Since it involved the New England Patriots, who are perceived as cheaters despite not doing any actual cheating, the story blew up. The NFL definitely tried to overcompensate for being too lenient on the Rice case by throwing the book at the Patriots and Tom Brady. $1M fine, loss of a 2016 1st and 2017 4th, and a 4-game suspension of Tom Brady. The Brady suspension turned into a public battle where every beat reporter in the country followed up on since Tom Brady's suspension likely affects the entire NFL season because he makes the Patriots an instant Super Bowl favorite in a weak AFC. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Judge Richard Berman vacated the suspension on the Law of the Shop grounds.
It was during the suspension that the media report leaks proved where the actual power structure is. During the court battle, we found out that some of the owners actually lobbied for Goodell to uphold the Brady suspension on appeal despite the lack of facts that incriminate anyone on the Patriots staff. What that tells me is Roger Goodell is nothing more than a politician. Goodell is the politician while the owners, including Robert Kraft, are the donor class that enables him to do what he does. It's no different than the politics that goes on in Washington D.C., which is what makes this news sickening. Of the owners most vocal about it, perhaps no one was more in support of a suspension than Jerry Jones. Fortunately for JJ, the Cowboys will be getting theirs in front of a national audience a week from Sunday. Before the Deflategate saga, perhaps no man was more supportive of Goodell than Robert Kraft. Kraft has done an excellent job of building the Patriots dynasty, but he also is responsible for the issues Goodell has created because he spent too much time counting the dollars instead of keeping Goodell in check.
The next thing I'd like to mention is how I'm bothered with how ESPN has turned into the NFL's propaganda wing. Maybe I'm missing something here, but the false reports on ESPN is what started the mess. The NFL leaked bad info to Chris Mortensen (who needs to retire, he's irrelevant), which started the whole furor and the Patriots weren't allowed to correct the false report. Stoking the fires of public opinion in you favor, which is already negative towards the Patriots due to ring envy, then acting upon them is a Textbook Politician Move by Goodell and the NFL Front Office. Journalism ethics are a thing of the past now that everyone is trying hard to break in the next big scoop. Now there are a handful of guys on ESPN's payroll who still abide by ethics, with Mike Reiss being the best example.
So now when you add up individual layers, the final picture looks ugly. I'm not sure what it would take before the owners wind up turning on Goodell. At this point, taking three horrific losses in court hasn't done the case as the game has reached new levels of popularity. As long as the current power structure remains in place, I really doubt any substantial change happens to the NFL.