(973espn.com) — On the surface, it seems silly.

Roger Goodell just signed his five-year extension with the NFL which could earn the commissioner another $200 million if things fall his way.

And that's tough to understand in a league where players are jettisoned if that don't perform up to expectations.

It's hard to look at the 2017 season as a positive one from Park Avenue's standpoint with declining television ratings, national anthem protests, the same inconsistent punishment policies and CTE dominating the headlines.

There have been more empty seats at NFL stadiums than at any other time in recent years, an indication that perhaps America's strongest sports league has reached the oversaturation point.

Yet the owners -- all except Jerry Jones that is -- doubled down on the guy who oversees all that and didn't even demand a pay cut to do so although to be fair, reports are that Goodell's new deal is heavily incentive-laden.

So other than highlighting the hypocrisy of Jones, who only turned on Goodell when he didn't get his way in the Ezekiel Elliott mess, why did the real power in the NFL want to move forward with the black hole of credibility?

It's simple and it relates to the first bullet point of Goodell's job description.

Lightning rod.

All the criticism the NFL takes is laid at the feet of Goodell despite the fact that he's actually employed by the 32 owners to essentially arbitrate the differences between them. The real power lies with them as a group yet Goodell is the punching back in a 24-hour news cycle that treats him like a palooka getting ravaged by a top-tier heavyweight.

It's a high-stakes, three-card Monte routine to distract the eye of the "marks."

“Where it’s been a bad year has been when the league has been thrust into the political vortex,” a source, described as an NFL insider, told the New York Daily News. “The NFL is not a political or social organization. It’s fundamentally a sports organization. The fundamental principle in business is don’t insult the customers. The players forgot or didn’t care about it.”

So did many of the fans and much of the media.

Turns out having someone to be the focus of that disdain is worth $40 million a year or so to billionaires who aren't interested in being the epicenter of a misguided society which somehow has twisted itself into a pretzel to believe an entertainment vehicle should also be a moral compass when it comes to things like social-justice initiatives, domestic violence or the long-term decision making of adults when it comes to their health.

To most, Roger Goodell is an easy target. To those who sign his checks, however, he remains indispensable.

-John McMullen is a national football columnist for Extra Points Media and 973espn.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen


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