During his three-year stint as the No. 2 executive at the NFL, Tod Leiweke said very little publicly as the league careened from one crisis to another, from Deflategate to kneeling-gate.
One month after leaving to help bring an NHL team to Seattle, he’s ready to open up, and he has some sharp words for those who attack the league, and in particular his old boss, Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Complete, ridiculous malarkey,” he said of the criticism levied at the commissioner. In fact, while many have taken shots at Goodell’s $30 million to $40 million annual compensation in the past, Leiweke contended Goodell earns every penny if not more.
“I don’t mean to make light of executive compensation — because I know these dollars, as a kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks if you will, one could make the case that many executives are paid so much more than school teachers, firemen, police officers — but I think Roger has added extraordinary value to the NFL,” Leiweke said. “I am one guy who says, without really knowing the details of his contract, I don’t think Roger Goodell is overpaid.”
Leiweke came to the NFL from a long career in team sports, having served as the top executive on teams ranging from the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. When hired at the NFL, his role was to bring some of his team insight to a league office that was often criticized for being tone deaf and isolated from the clubs.
Asked why he is speaking out now, Leiweke replied that Goodell didn’t like to hit back at detractors.
There were times that I wanted to speak out, but that’s not Roger’s way. … He doesn’t parade around and say, ‘Look how good I am.’ Sometimes I wish we did a lot more of that for him.
“People just love taking shots and so be it, that’s part of life, he accepts that,” Leiweke said. “I guess I found it a little bit harder, I grit my teeth a little bit more, but you follow his lead.”
That was the style during a pair of controversies last fall, President Donald Trump’s broadside against the league over players protesting during the national anthem and the campaign by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to restrict Goodell’s new employment contract.
Asked about the recent New York Times story that detailed a meeting last October between players and owners in the aftermath of the Trump attack, Leiweke had harsh words for whomever released the audio recording of that discussion.
“Sometimes people do things that I think are dumb and unwise and go against the very being of the NFL, being a team sport and trust and all those things,” he said. “It happens, it is unfortunate, and there were a couple of times it happened, and I wish I had known who had done it because you would have loved to confront that person.”
Leiweke comes back often to a fact about the commissioner that he finds telling: Goodell keeps a Polaroid of himself as a young boy sleeping with a football. The point to Leiweke is that the old photo shows how much Goodell loves the game and does what he thinks is right.
“The NFL vital signs are very strong,” he said. “It’s not to say there are not challenges, but I think a little bit of the frustration for me were people … seeing the challenges and not the good stuff.”
For Leiweke, that is what pains him when he sees Goodell being attacked.
“There were times that I wanted to speak out, but that’s not Roger’s way,” he said. “He is on the other hand a very humble guy and he doesn’t beat his chest. He doesn’t parade around and say, ‘Look how good I am.’ Sometimes I wish we did a lot more of that for him. Now I can say these words.”