Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue Announces Retirement

As Steven Taylor noted earlier, Paul Tagliabue, who has been the NFL’s commissioner since 1989, announced today that he will retire in July before the new season kicks off.

Paul Tagliabue is retiring as NFL commissioner in July after more than 16 years on the job. The 65-year-old commissioner has led the league since 1989, when he succeeded Pete Rozelle, and agreed last March to stay to complete the television and labor deals. He finally got that done 12 days ago, finishing the most arduous labor negotiations since the league and union agreed on a free agency-salary cap deal in 1992. “I believe that now is a positive time to make the transition to a new commissioner,” Tagliabue said in a statement.

Roger Goodell, the NFL’s chief operating officer, and Atlanta general manager Rich McKay are the two leading candidates to succeed Tagliabue. Baltimore Ravens president Dick Cass is considered a dark horse. Tagliabue has said he wants to avoid the kind of seven-month deadlock that occurred between him and the late Jim Finks after Rozelle stepped down in March 1989.

“We have a collective bargaining extension in place, long-term television contracts, and have undertaken many other strong elements in league and club operations,” Tagliabue said. “I am honored to have been commissioner since late 1989 and to have been heavily involved with the league, its owners, clubs, coaches, players, fans and media since 1969.”

Tagliabue’s term will be remembered most for labor peace following strikes in 1982 and 1987. His close relationship with Gene Upshaw, the union’s executive director, finally led to a long-term agreement after five years without a contract. But the bargaining was hard this time, with three straight deadline extensions needed. The agreement avoided the prospect of entering free agency this year with the possibility of an uncapped year in 2007. He also oversaw a massive stadium building program. More than two-thirds of the NFL’s 32 teams are either playing in or building stadiums that didn’t exist when he took over as commissioner in 1989.

Before becoming commissioner, Tagliabue was a league lawyer who spent much of that time as the NFL’s representative and unofficial lobbyist in Washington.

For a substantial number of fans, Tags has always been the face of the NFL. I’m old enough to remember Pete Rozell. While he has not overseen the type of explosion his predecessor did, he has provided excellent stewardship and helped continue the evolution of the League to the unquestioned premier sports empire in the United States.

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