NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wields tremendous power to discipline NFL players, both doling out punishment and overseeing potential appeals. But he's also been criticized harshly for the way he's handled some of the league's recent high-profile cases, and has said himself that the league needs a "better discipline system." Such a system could be on the way: TheWall Street Journalreports that the NFL and the NFL Players Association are making progress toward an agreement that would strip Goodell of his power to punish players for off-the-field incidents.
The paper notes that no deal has been reached yet and that obstacles remain, but NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith says he's optimistic a deal will get done. The Journal reports that one replacement system being discussed would involve a panel of three neutral arbitrators — made up of lawyers or former judges with some background in football — that would serve as hearing officers.
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Roger Goodell could be stripped of his power to discipline players
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during the Reuters Media Summit in New York November 29, 2006. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES)
NFL chief operating officer Roger Goodell, wearing a traditional Japanese robe, welcomes players and fans to an NFL 2005 American Bowl party at the Tokyo Dome Hotel on August 4, 2005. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Roger Goodell, the executive vice-president of the NFL, speaks at a news conference in Mexico City to announce the league's first regular season game outside of the United States, July 15, 2005. The San Francisco 49ers will play the Arizona Cardinals on October 2 this year at Mexico City's Azteca stadium. REUTERS/Andrew Winning AW/DY
The new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (L) shakes hands with retiring commissioner Paul Tagliabue after Goodell was named the league's new chief executive in Northbrook, Illinois, August 8, 2006. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (L) and New England Patriots Chariman and chief executive officer Robert Kraft laugh before the start of a game in Foxboro, Massachusetts, September 24, 2006, while announcing that the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks will play in the first NFL game in China. The game will be played August 8, 2007. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES)
Roger Goodell (C), the new Commissioner of the NFL, talks with a group of officials before the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 7, 2006. REUTERS/ Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES)
First pick by the Detroit Lions and second pick overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York April 28, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions at a news conference in Tampa, Florida, January 30, 2009. The Pittsburgh Steelers will meet the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL's Super Bowl XLIII football game on February 1. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES)
Quarterback Matthew Stafford from the University of Georgia stands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Detroit Lions as the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York, April 25, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES SPORT FOOTBALL)
Roger Goodell, National Football League Commissioner, testifies before the Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee on "The NFL StarCaps Case: Are Sports' Anti-Doping Programs at a Legal Crossroads?" on Capitol Hill in Washington November 3, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (UNITED STATES POLITICS SPORT FOOTBALL)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks along the sidelines during the pregame warmup of the NFL's Super Bowl XLIV football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Florida February 7, 2010. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (UNITED STATES)
NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell (L), U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and former Colts coach Tony Dungy (R) huddle during flag football with children to promote the first lady's "Let's Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity in New Orleans, September 8, 2010. REUTERS/Cheryl Gerber (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SPORT EDUCATION HEALTH)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell departs after a day of negotiations with players association representatives in Washington March 8, 2011. The two sides are seeking an agreement as the deadline looms for a player lockout. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS)
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson (R) speaks to the media as National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell listens during a news conference after the NFL owners meeting in College Park in Atlanta, Georgia July 21, 2011. NFL owners voted on Thursday to approve a new collective bargaining agreement with players, paving the way for an end to a lockout that has left America's most popular sport in limbo. REUTERS/John Amis (UNITED STATES - Tags: EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS SPORT FOOTBALL)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference before the Super Bowl XLVI NFL football game in Indianapolis, Indiana, February 3, 2012. Super Bowl XLVI between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants is set for play on February 5. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten (R) holds the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award after it was presented to him during the NFL Honors award show in New Orleans, Louisiana February 2, 2013. From left are Payton's children, Jarrett and Brittney Payton and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL ENTERTAINMENT)
Eric Reid from Louisiana State University holds his daughter as he stands on stage with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the San Francisco 49ers as the 18th overall pick in the 2013 National Football League (NFL) Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (R) speaks beside New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during a news conference at the Boys and Girls Club of Newark Clubhouse in Newark, New Jersey January 27, 2014. The event was held to announce the NFL Foundation's grant to the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee's Snowflake Youth Foundation to fund charitable projects throughout New York and New Jersey. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SPORT)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a news conference to address domestic violence issues and the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy in New York, September 19, 2014. Goodell said on Friday that rules governing personal conduct will change, signaling a major shift in policy in the wake of the league's poor handling of domestic abuse cases. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (L) arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York August 31, 2015. New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady and Goodell are due in a Manhattan federal court to discuss litigation over Brady's four-game suspension. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Oct 31, 2015; London, United Kingdom; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the NFL International Series Fan Forum at the Institute of Education. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Philadelphia Eagles as the number one overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the sidelines prior to the game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
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"We've been talking about changes to the personal conduct policy since October and have traded proposals," Smith told the paper. "We looked at the league's proposal for neutral arbitration. There is a common ground for us to get something done."
Goodell — whose decisions in the cases of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Tom Brady were all overturned either in court or by an arbitrator — said last September that he was open to changing his role in the process. "It's become extremely time-consuming, and I have to be focused on other issues," he told ESPN Radio. Goodell said at the time that any change would involve the way an initial decision is reached, and not the way appeals are handled.
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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady arrives at federal court to appeal the National Football League's (NFL) decision to suspend him for four games of the 2015 season on August 12, 2015 in New York City. The NFL alleges that Brady knew footballs used in one of last season's games was deflated below league standards, making it easier to handle. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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Smith said that any agreement would have to settle ongoing appeals of decisions reached under the current system. "It's a player decision with what they want to do, but I can't imagine there is any appetite to agree with any proposal that doesn't wrap up all the litigation," he said. "We can either continue to litigate or reach a collectively bargained conclusion."
"We looked at the league's proposal for neutral arbitration. There is a common ground for us to get something done."
DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director
In a statement, an NFL spokesperson said that "This is an important area that deserves to be addressed thoughtfully and with full consideration for everyone's interests — players, clubs and fans. We are addressing the subject in a serious way and will continue to discuss this directly with the union and not in the media."