As commissioner of the NFL, Goodell is both a planner and a forward thinker. So, it’s no accident that Sean Payton was reinstated as head coach of the Saints on Tuesday, just days before the city of New Orleans will host the Super Bowl.
Payton was reinstated by the NFL after enduring a season-long suspension, and while the move comes two weeks ahead of the coach’s originally scheduled return, there was a purpose behind Goodell’s decision.
In just a few short days, New Orleans will be bombarded with tens of thousands of NFL fans from around the country, and the world, preparing for arguably the biggest annual event in sports. As these fans descend upon the shores of the Gulf, Goodell saw an opportunity to appease the Saints faithful after a long and arduous season, offering at least a glimmer of hope for the future.
The Saints’ punishment for the Bountygate scandal went far beyond merely Payton’s suspension, though, as other management personnel like assistant coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis missed time along with players Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith. The absence of so many key pieces led the Saints to an unexpected 0-4 start and saw them finish the season at an underwhelming 7-9, just one year after a divisional-round playoff exit.
What appeared to be a bright future was severely dimmed by the wrath of Goodell and the NFL offices, and New Orleans hasn’t taken too kindly to the commissioner for implementing such hefty penalties. Goodell will have to do a lot more than offer such a pretty olive branch before the fans of New Orleans accept him back into their good graces, but it’s at least a start.
It’s doubtful that Goodell even cares whether he’s loved or loathed in the city now or for years to come, but he certainly doesn’t want the hostile feelings of the local fan base to spoil the NFL’s ultimate cash cow — the Super Bowl.
Granting Payton an early release for good behavior may seem a little desperate, but that’s only because it is. Goodell is merely playing the only card he’s got left, and hoping it will help curb at least some animosity heading into the league’s most important two weeks.
There’s nothing random about the move, because Goodell doesn’t do random. He’s just showing off his business savvy once again and attempting to lessen the blow of any bad PR on the NFL’s biggest day.