There have been signs of decay for a while, but it was probably in 2012 when the seams started to split.
It was old-money against new-money, and the new-money was in trouble.
The 2010 season offered a year without a salary cap and Dallas and Washington decided to sign players with front-loaded contract structures that took advantage of the non-cap. In March of 2012, the league announced that the two teams would be hit with lost cap space due to the contracts structures. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was upset. So was Washington's owner Dan Snyder.
Those are two of the biggest new-money owners, along with Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, and they were not happy.
Now, it seems like the new-money owners have been getting their revenge.
In 2013, new-money Rams owner Stan Kroenke started to plan his move to Inglewood, in direct opposition to old-money Chargers owner Dean Spanos, who wanted to move to Carson. Kroenke had the support of Jones in what ESPN describes as effectively a proxy war between the two ownership factions.
"The dueling proposals did not only represent the NFL's most recent, best opportunity to return to Los Angeles. They had also become the centerpiece of a chaotic power struggle among the league's 32 owners, between the so-called new-money group, with members who all supported Inglewood, and the old guard, most of whom favored Carson."
On one side of the aisle was old-money Spanos and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and the rest of the described old guard that wanted the Chargers and Raiders to move to Carson, and on the other was Kroenke, Jones, Snyder, and Lurie pushing for Inglewood.
The debate was tabled during the 2014 season thanks to Roger Goodell's lack of leadership during the Ray Rice debacle, and that storyline apparently "distracted [Goodell] from executing the league's longtime goal of returning to LA and severely weakened his standing in ownership circles."
According to another ESPN report, owners wanted Goodell fired after the 2014 offseason, with one saying, "We're paying this guy $45 million for this s---?"
But instead of waiting until the next offseason when Goodell could regroup, Kroenke and the new-money team pushed ahead. An NFL executive named Eric Grubman had effectively teamed up with Kroenke to get the Inglewood deal pushed through.
The Chargers felt that Grubman was feeding the best parts of their proposal to the new-money team to incorporate into their opposing proposal, and there were "persistent rumors that Grubman wanted to work for Kroenke in Los Angeles."
The new-money team had an NFL executive in their back-pocket. ESPN also reports that Goodell "privately preferred the Inglewood site but had pledged to remain neutral." The league wanted the new-money side to win.
Throughout the debates for the Los Angeles move, a small manufactured incident called DeflateGate popped up. You might have heard of it. Another ESPN report highlighted the friction in the ownership ranks with regards to how much these owners want to "beat" the others.
One team owner acknowledges that for years there was a "jealous ... hater" relationship among many owners with Kraft, the residue of Spygate. "It's not surprising that there's a makeup call," one team owner says. Another longtime executive says a number of owners wanted Goodell to "go hard on this one." [...]
"Roger did the right thing -- at last," one owner said after Goodell upheld Brady's punishment. "He looks tough -- and that's good."
"Pleased," said another longtime owner.
"About time," an executive close to another owner said. "Overdue."
"The world has never seen anyone as good as Roger Goodell as a political maneuverer. If he were in Congress, he'd be majority [leader]," one owner says.
After the DeflateGate verdict, owners like Jones and Lurie voiced their support for Goodell's decision, while old-money owner Art Rooney claimed that he wouldn't put DeflateGate "on the scale of serious," and Spanos offered his support to Kraft.
A proxy war. The game didn't end on the gridiron.
So it's little surprise that the owners might not want what's best for the overall league in Los Angeles, but instead what's best for their individual benefit. While some owners wondered how moving the Rams would impact future requests for public funding, others just pointed to the bottom line that Los Angeles was a far better market than St. Louis.
Instead of bringing the two sides together, Goodell appeared to be willing to pit the sides against one another, acting as a "yes man", or even a wallflower, instead of a leader. The ESPN report notes that owners wished Goodell handled the Los Angeles decision differently.
"Some around the league wish that Goodell had locked the three owners in a room and forced them to cut a deal right then, avoiding the battles and hurt feelings that would unfold. Instead, Goodell allowed the NFL's messy form of democracy to run its course, appearing strangely detached in meetings."
Ultimately, Goodell has been playing for a new contract once his ends in 2019, and he's trying to appease everyone. By throwing his support behind the owners that were in favor of slamming the Patriots with a penalty for a fabricated event, he curried some favors. By standing on the sidelines of the Los Angeles deal, he ensured that he wasn't the focal point of hurt feelings.
It's Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenke that come off as the drivers of the friction, not the inaction of Goodell. A senior team executive put the sentiments of the league owners in appropriate terms in the ESPN report.
"There are people who feel [Goodell] has made them a lot of money and they shouldn't do anything. Others think, 'He has embarrassed the league and if we had a better commissioner, we'd be making more money.'"
The money will always flow because football is the best sport in the world. Goodell doesn't want to rock the boat anymore. And that's why the NFL is going to have a lame duck commissioner with regards to anything non-financially related for the next three seasons.
A Super Bowl champion and one of the all time greats linked to HGH? Buried. Messing with the injury report? Buried. Concussions? Definitely buried.
Every mistake by Goodell will be magnified, so he's not going to give anyone a chance to grill him. He's going to function in a similar capacity as in the owners meeting: strangely detached.
The only stories you'll be hearing from the NFL offices over the rest of his tenure will be the massive television deals that will satisfy both the old- and new-money owners, or how the league is expanding overseas, or how the league is generating money hand-over-fist.
Perhaps money is the only way to reconnect the fractured owners- and if he manages to pull that off, maybe Goodell will have earned a new contract. (editor's note: oh, please, no.)