New York Paul Tagliabue is leaving the NFL, and he's leaving it both peaceful and prosperous.
The 65-year-old commissioner will step down in July after 16 years, his tenure marked by labor harmony and unprecedented riches through television deals.
Tagliabue has been in charge since 1989, when he succeeded Pete Rozelle, and agreed last March to stay to complete the TV deal and a long-term contract with players.
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 really want to emphasize how much of a privilege it is to spend most of your adult life with the NFL. This is not an easy decision for me," Tagliabue said on a conference call Monday.
"As difficult as this decision is, I also know it's the right decision. Right for me. Right for the league," he said.
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 also is considered to have an outside chance, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has said she would like the job.
"Ask her," Tagliabue said when quizzed about Rice's candidacy.
Tagliabue said the search was wide-open and that he will stay on beyond July to avoid the kind of seven-month deadlock that occurred between him and the late Jim Finks after Rozelle stepped down in March 1989.
Owners will begin to look for a new commissioner at their meetings next week in Orlando, Fla.
As for his own tenure, Tagliabue said, "Building a strong relationship with the NFL Players Assn. is the thing I'm most proud of."
His term will be remembered most for labor peace following strikes in 1982 and 1987.