The only way the NFL makes national news in Week Three of its season — as the lead story, no less, above a possible Al Qaeda link in Libya, above the presidential election — is if something terrible is happening. You need a catastrophe, some sort of mortal threat to the game itself. The NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell never quite understood how much damage their replacement/scab referee fiasco was doing to the league and to themselves until it was almost too late. It might still have been.
ESPN's John Clayton has the rundown of the details of the deal — the one thing no one appears to have cared about was what everyone was fighting about, which also didn't help the league's cause — and it's clear that the NFL took a worse deal because of the public outrage. The officials agreed to a slight change in their pension plan, but a small one, and one that will still be lucrative when it kicks in 2017. The NFL got the taxi squad it was wanting — basically a ref-in-training squad that it would gradually rotate in — but with fewer refs than initially planned. And not only will refs be full-time in the next few years, they're all getting pretty huge raises: The average salary last year was $149,000, but it'll be $205,000 by 2019.
That is, without question, a total loss for the NFL; they don't like to back down on anything (as the player lockout last year showed vividly) yet here, they definitely came out behind in the final tally. That's because of the chaos of the first three weeks and definitely because of that Monday night clusterphooey. They had to cut their losses: This was becoming a bigger story than anything the players and teams were doing.
Ultimately, we think this might be good for the NFL: For the first time in recent memory, the league has essentially admitted fallibility. The signature position of the Roger Goodell Era has been The Shield Is Always Right, and the league has steamrolled anyone who stood in their way on anything. This has led the league into becoming a humorless, inflexible corporate monolith that has not only sucked much of the fun and personality out of the games and the players, but has also made the league slow to react to problems, most notably the concussion issue. Ideally, this brief moment of "Okay, we made a mistake" will lead to a more open viewpoint to exterior threats, perhaps Goodell being more modest out of necessity, out of the first obvious time that everyone on earth was questioning his judgment. If that doesn't happen — and let's face it, it probably won't — then Goodell will double down with the authoritarianism, but from a more weakened position than ever. That won't help him ... but it might ultimately help the league. The NFL needs to get its groove back. Perhaps the village needs to be, if not burned down, at least a little seared, so that it may be saved.