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Roger Goodell State of the League press conference transcript

[Editor’s note: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had his annual State of the League press conference on Friday. This is the transcript of that press conference, distributed by the NFL.]

Opening Statement:

“Good morning. This Sunday will be the conclusion of an incredible season of NFL football. Our teams this season gave fans dramatic games and amazing performances. Think about it, the inspiring comebacks of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson; the extraordinary rookie quarterbacks; Calvin Johnson, Tony Gonzalez catching; Aldon Smith, Von Miller and J.J. Watt sacking; the fantastic final Sunday of the regular season. Everyone is buzzing about how exciting the playoffs have been. So wouldn’t it be fitting if we have that one final struggle on Sunday night? This Super Bowl matchup has it all: the Harbaughs, Ray Lewis, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco, the Pistol offense, and the list goes on. Congratulations to Steve Bisciotti, to John, Denise and Jed York. We really can’t wait to see your teams in the Super Bowl on Sunday night.

“There are two important people who are not here, but very much on our minds. Art Modell, the legendary former owner of the Ravens, who passed away in September. Art’s spirit is certainly here this week. And his name will be on the Ravens jersey on Sunday, as it has all season. And this is the first Super Bowl without Steve Sabol, the creative genius behind NFL Films. His imprint is all over our game and the Super Bowl. Steve and Art were innovators. They inspire us to exceed our expectations. As a league, we have challenges. We always do, and we embrace them for the opportunity to do better.

“On and off the field in the last couple of years, we have accomplished some remarkable things that have really strengthened the very foundation of our game. We have the most talented athletes on earth, in a game that those players and fans love. Our mission is to make it even better and we are doing the work. The changes we are making are having a positive impact. The game is exciting, competitive, tough and safer. We are making the game better while also evolving into a health and safety culture. That is a big priority. We are also improving officiating, investing in upgrading the stadium experience and engaging more people in more ways than ever. Our numbers are up in overall fan engagement, in most cases, dramatically. So a big thank you to NFL fans, the best in sports.

“Interest in the NFL is expanding as we grow internationally. In fact, today we are announcing that our two games in London next season – the 49ers and Jaguars and the Steelers and Vikings – are already sold out. It is a sign that the game is growing globally. But there is more work to do and more ways to improve. The Competition Committee’s agenda will include looking at eliminating certain dangerous low blocks; further taking the head out of the game and expanding the standards for the quality of our playing fields. We will take steps to ensure more diversity in our hiring practices. The results this year were simply not acceptable.

“On the health side, we will update our injury protocols and add neurosurgeons to our game day medical resources. We are going to implement expanded physicals at the end of each season. Three days to review players from a physical, mental and life-skills standpoint, so that we can support them in a more comprehensive fashion. We want to pioneer new approaches to player health and safety that emphasize prevention as well as treatment. This will include our commitment to supporting our retired players. Those are some of the priorities. From the quality of our game, to growing fan interest and engagement, to our commitment to evolve and innovate, we have many reasons to be optimistic about the future. I could not be more optimistic or ready to go.

“It’s also terrific for us to be back here in New Orleans. Our 10th Super Bowl here, the first since (Hurricane) Katrina. And it’s clear this city is back bigger and better than ever. Our very heartfelt thanks to Mayor Mitch Landrieu; James Carville and Mary Matalin; the Host Committee; the 7,000 local volunteers for being truly, truly great hosts this week. Also, to Tom and Gayle Benson and Rita LeBlanc, for all you have done for this community. Everybody here has done an outstanding job. You should be very proud and we are very grateful.

“Now we will get to your questions.”

The President recently said he would think twice about having a son play football, if he had a son. He also said that fans need to examine their conscience about football. Is there a deeper-rooted problem with the game and its safety than the NFL might have realized? How can the NFL deal effectively with such problems?

“Well, the issue of player health and safety has always been a priority in the NFL. We will continue to make it a priority. You have our commitment. The players have our commitment that we will do that. I started playing the game when I was in fourth grade, tackle football in Washington D.C. and I love the game of football. I started as a fan, but I wouldn’t give back one day of playing tackle football. The benefits of playing football, teaching you the values, teaching you character, teaching you how to get up when you’re knocked down, how to work with others, teamwork. They are extraordinary lessons in life that I use to this day. I welcome the President’s comments because it has been a priority and we want to make sure that people understand what we’re doing to make our game safer, not just in the NFL, but throughout sports. The changes we’re making in the NFL, I think, are changing all of sports. There is better recognition of head injuries, of treating them conservatively, and that affects every sport, beyond sports, to your children playing in the playground, to our troops overseas. What we’re doing is leading the way to try and make sure people understand that you need to treat these injuries seriously. We can make our games safer, as we have done. I believe that the changes that we’re making to our game will make football better. It will make it safer. It will make other sports safer. We’re proud of our accomplishments and we have more to do, but we will not relent on this.”

More on the same issue – Joe Flacco on Media Day said the current fine system isn’t working. It’s not changing the way that defensive players are playing. He’s going to get hit no matter what, and all that you’re doing is taking money out of their pockets. Steve Bisciotti said that he thinks maybe intent needs to be taken into consideration. Flacco also said maybe suspensions, but with pay, might get through to some of these guys. I wonder what you think about their comments and about maybe whether suspensions is where you need to go? I know that the league did try to suspend Ed Reed.

“I’m glad that you reminded yourself of that. This is something that we have seen, an escalation in the discipline, because we are trying to take these techniques out of the game. I think it was about four years ago at this very press conference, I said, ‘We have to take these hits out of the game that we think have a higher risk of causing injuries.’ The focus was on defenseless players, and I stand by our record because I think we have made those changes and made the game safer. I think we’re going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders. It’s not just the player, the defenseless player, that’s being protected; it’s the person doing the striking. We see in the injury rates that the defenseless player and the defensive back are having a higher injury rate. Taking these hits out of the game can be positive. The most effective way of doing that, and I’m not for it because we want to see all of our players on the field, is when they are repeat offenders and they are involved with these dangerous techniques, that we’re going to have to take them off the field. Suspension gets through to them. It’s gets through on the basis that they don’t want to let their teammates down, and they want to be on the field. We want to see them on the field. We’re going to continue to emphasize the importance of following those rules. When there are violations, we will escalate the discipline.”

I know that the system for discipline for on-field violations, the way the system exists now, you have neutral arbitrators in Art Shell and Ted Cottrell. Also, my understanding is that in a new drug policy, the league would be willing to have neutral arbitration in that, too. If you can confirm that, fine, but also, the NFLPA said yesterday that it is seeking to have neutral arbitration for off-the-field discipline issues. I’m wondering if you see a connection with that demand as another component to the standstill in negotiations for HGH testing?

“Well interesting, Jarrett, to that point, you are correct. In our Collective Bargaining Agreement that we signed two years ago, we did agree to HGH testing. As part of that, we agreed to neutral arbitration for drug cases. We will do that as soon as we reach agreement on the HGH, which I expect and hope will be very soon. We have moved down that path in an effective way. On the field, we have a system that I think has worked quite effectively. I don’t agree with all of the decisions, but I don’t expect to. Off the field, beyond the drug issue, it is very important for us to maintain our integrity and our brand. We expect that the people that are involved with our game from the commissioner to the players to the coaches will uphold those standards. We have three great young men here today that are finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. I’m proud of our players. I’m proud of what they do, but we always have to make sure that we’re reflecting positively on the shield. When there are violations along those lines, they impact on the integrity of the game. That is something that the commissioner has had the authority on for several decades, several versions of the CBA, and that is not something that we’re going to relent on. We’re going to always uphold the standards of the NFL because the fans deserve that, and I believe the players deserve that. That is the commissioner’s role, and you can hold me accountable for it, and I will stand by my decisions.”

I wanted to ask you about your comment about minority hiring in coaching, and you saying that you weren’t satisfied with it. What do you think are some of the issues that continue to make this a problem and what’s going to bring about real change?

“First, the Rooney Rule has been very effective over the last decade, but we have to look to see what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is. What’s going to take us to another level? We’re committed to finding that answer. That’s going to have to come from conversations with a lot of people in this league to find out exactly what can be most effective in allowing our talent to excel. And that’s what it is – we want to make sure we have the best people in the best possible positions, and give everybody the opportunity to do that. We want to focus on how do we get to a Rooney Rule, or an extension of the Rooney Rule, or a new generation of the Rooney Rule, that will allow us to do that? There was full compliance with the Rooney Rule. There were, in fact, I believe, a record number of interviews. But we didn’t have the outcomes that we wanted, and the outcomes are to make sure that we have full diversity throughout our coaching ranks, throughout our executive ranks, and throughout the league office. It’s very important to the success of the league to do that, and we’re committed to finding those solutions.”

I know you highlighted player safety in your opening statement. What was your reaction to the NFLPA’s study yesterday that said 78 percent of players do not trust their team’s medical staffs?

“I did hear that yesterday. Last week, we met for four hours with union officials. Several players were there. Several owners were there. They did raise the issue of making sure we have proper medical attention, but they didn’t raise those statistics. That was news to me as of yesterday. I’m disappointed, because I think we have tremendous medical care for our players. These are not just team doctors. These doctors are affiliated with the best medical institutions in the world – the Cleveland Clinic, Stanford, Hospital for Special Surgery. The medical care that is provided to our players is extraordinary. Now, we will always seek to improve it. We will always seek to figure out how we can do things better, provide better medical care, but I think it’s extraordinary. And as I talk to players – including one yesterday – they feel the same way, but we’ll have to address that and we’ll have to figure out what we can do to try to improve it. One of those I also mentioned in the opening. We’ll add a neurosurgeon on the field that can be there for consultation, that can be there for another set of eyes on the field, and to support the doctors in making the best possible decisions on the field, and off the field. And I believe our doctors do that.”

You went to owners meetings in Dallas last year and met with MADD. How disappointing is it that so soon after Jerry Brown’s death that his teammate is arrested for DWI, and is there something else that the league can do to tell the players that this is unacceptable?

“Well, Charean, I think we have to go beyond telling players or telling executives. The reality is we have to do a better job of educating people in the NFL that this is a priority. This is for your safety, for the safety of the people in your car, and for innocent people that are out there. There are services designed to help them make better decisions before they leave their homes. We have to make sure that they understand those services, and most importantly, take advantage of them, use them. We did meet with MADD, and I met with MADD last week. We’re going to engage in a number of programs to help educate all of our clubs – players, coaches (and) executives – on what we can do. Victim impact programs have been very effectively used with several clubs over the past several months. We’re going to do that because this is a high priority, not only for the sake of safety, but it’s part of our responsibility in the communities that we live.”

Yesterday, the NFLPA was very vocal about singling out dissatisfaction with Dr. David Chao, the Chargers’ team doctor, and said it requested the league find a ‘suitable replacement’ for him. What is your response to that request and also comments that NFL players deserve better than Dr. Chao?

“In the CBA, at the union’s request, we entered an agreement that is called Article 50. Article 50 states that if there is an issue with any medical decision, or the medical professionals of the club, there can be a solution by engaging with independent doctors, I believe three neutral doctors, including an NFL attorney, and they will review the matter. As I understand it, that is exactly what is going on in San Diego. We’ll allow the process to unfold. I’m confident our doctors make the best possible decisions for the players, and we’re going to stand behind that. We’ll engage in the process and let it unfold.”

The Rams and local stadium authority are waiting for an arbitrator’s decision on stadium improvement proposals there. Are you confident that the parties can resolve their differences and that the Rams will stay in St. Louis?

“I haven’t gotten an update on the arbitration process. I expect the possibility of a decision in the next couple of weeks. It is, as you know, a clause and a part of a contract that they initially agreed to when the Rams came to St. Louis 12-15 years ago. That is something we are engaging in. We want to make sure that the team gets the stadium issues resolved because they need to have the type of stadium that will help support them for the long term in St. Louis. I believe that the business community and the officials in St. Louis want that outcome. I believe Stan Kroenke wants that outcome. They’re all working together to try and get there. Again, the process is unfolding and I hope they’ll be able to reach that agreement. I’m optimistic they will.”

If they cannot pass the renovations, is the NFL willing to provide any stadium funding for those improvements?

“We’re willing to do that in any market where there is a public/private partnership, to allow the other 31 clubs to help contribute to financing the stadium that will help solve the problem for the long term. If we can get to the point where we have the structure of a deal, I’m very confident that the league will support that and participate.”

The 18-game schedule is still on the table. Is that a reality? And, HGH testing. is that going to happen or not?

“Let me start with the second portion of your question. I believe that HGH testing is going to happen prior to the 2013 NFL season. It’s the right thing to do for the players, for their health and well-being long-term. It’s the right thing to do for the integrity of the game. It’s also the right thing to do to send the right message to everybody else in sports. You don’t have to play the game by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The science is there. There is no question about that. Baseball, Olympics, everyone believes that the science is there and are utilizing the tests, so we need to get to that agreement. On the first part of your question, we’re always going to reevaluate our season structure. We’ve been very open about the fact that we want to address our preseason. Do we need four preseason games? Do we only need two or three? How do we continue to develop talent? How do we continue to evaluate players? The fans’ reaction to the quality of preseason is a big concern. So, we have to do that collectively. That’s what our CBA does. If we wanted to implement an 18-game schedule, we could have done that in the prior CBA. The ownership and management agreed that we would do that collectively and we would consider and balance the player health and safety issues with that. So, we’ll continue to evaluate that. I think the changes we made in the CBA, particularly in offseason training, the training camp period and even during the regular season – eliminating contact, allowing players to get away from the game – that’s been great for the players. They deserve that. Every player I talk to tells me they feel better at this time of the year than they’ve ever felt in the past. I think that’s a direct result of some of the changes in the CBA. We will continue to figure out how we can improve with our season structure, but we will not make changes if we can’t do it in a safe and effective way.”

The union yesterday advocated the appointment of a chief safety officer to overview all player safety, and that would be mutually agreed upon, whoever that person is. Also, advocated credentialing for all team doctors and trainers. Do you see anything that could stand in the way of those kinds of advancements with player health and safety?

“Well again, Albert, let me start with the fact that we spent four hours last Friday meeting with union officials, including many players and owners, and that issue did not come up. It was not raised during that entire four hours. That being said, I would tell you that I believe safety is all of our responsibilities. I can’t appoint somebody who’s going to make the game safer as an individual. That’s all of our responsibilities. I’ll stand up, I’ll be accountable. It’s part of my responsibility, I’ll do everything. But the players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it. All of us are going to have to do that. All that being said, since I just heard this in the last 12 hours, I’ll do anything that’s going to help us make the game safer and better. They have my commitment on that, so I’ll be happy to engage in the dialogue in a meeting where we can talk about the plusses and the minuses and how we make the game safer.”

First of all, I have been to 41 Super Bowls. I don’t want to brag on that, but here is what I want to ask you for all of these people. The first ticket to the Super Bowl only costs $12 and that was in Los Angeles. Now, the tickets cost $850, $950 and $1250.

“It sounds like the prices went down.” (Laughter)

Well yeah, they are down in a certain manner.

“I hear you. I understand your point.”

The thing I wanted to know, and I have asked you before, is there some way to put a cap on this thing so the ticket only sells for a certain price? The other thing I was going to say is about the Pro Bowl and that you will still leave it in Hawaii except come after the Super Bowl. A man makes the Pro Bowl, and he might make the Super Bowl, but the way it is with this arrangement is I still think it would be better after the Super Bowl the way it was before.

“OK, well let me start with your question because the second was a comment. The first part of your point was, ‘Could there be a cap on the Super Bowl ticket prices?’ I would tell you that we have worked very hard to try to keep them reasonable and to try to give access to people so they can attend the Super Bowl. It is very difficult because, as you know, they are being sold on the secondary market at multiples of the face value. So, a couple of years ago, it may have been five years ago because it was the first year I was the commissioner, we put a cap on a certain number of tickets so that they could go to the fans. I think we capped it at $500. We found that a lot of times, most of the time, those tickets ended up on the secondary market at multiples. I want our fans to be able to attend NFL games. I want them to be able to come because they want to enjoy the experience and enjoy the event and it’s affordable and that it’s safe. But the realities are that there is a market demand, and there is a limited number of tickets. Only 70,000 people are going to get into that Superdome, but there are hundreds of thousands of people here in New Orleans that are celebrating and part of the event. We work hard to try to engage fans, create the NFL Experience and allow people to be able to come and be part of the event, but there is only a limited number of seats.”

Looking back, do you have any regrets on how the Saints bounty investigation was handled? Even though the player penalties were overturned ultimately, do you feel like the message was still sent to the teams and to the players to avoid this type of behavior in the future?

“Let me just take a moment and get back and make sure everyone is clear on the record. There is no question there was a bounty program in place for three years. I think that that is bad for the players, for the game, and I think the message is incredibly clear, and I don’t believe that bounties will be part of football going forward. That’s good for everybody. I do think that message has come through clear. As it relates to the regrets, I think my biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game to make the game safer. Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That’s what I regret, that I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough with the union, and with others. That is something we are going to be incredibly relentless on.”

How do you define innovation to improve the NFL? Whether it’s consumer marketing, digital media, player safety, game operations, or the fan experience, is it solving a problem or satisfying a need in a glamorous way that increases value? Within the NFL, is innovation primarily viewed as an ideology or viewed as a process that is less glamorous but more productive?

Well, innovation is something that we are proud of. I made that point in my opening remarks. It’s a philosophy. It’s about you can always get better and it’s your responsibility to seek solutions. I like solutions. I believe in solutions. You have to identify problems and find those solutions. But you also have to have a commitment to finding a better way, and that is part of innovation. What is tricky in an organization like the National Football League is we rely a lot on our tradition. That is important to us. We believe in it. It’s what we are all about. I said this when I became commissioner, I said it to the owners when they fortunately selected me for this job. I said, ‘Our biggest risk is being complacent. We cannot assume that our success is going to continue just because we have been successful.’ I think the last six years, we have continued to find ways to improve. Whether it’s player health and safety, whether it’s making the game better or more exciting, whether it’s giving the fans more opportunity to engage with the game of football closer. The NFL Network is now fully distributed. People are engaging with the NFL on their cell phones. We have more ways for fans to engage, and that’s why I like to say that there has never been a better time to be a fan. Innovation is not just some theme. ,It is something that we feel in our core and something where we are always going to live, to try to make things better.”

You’ve mentioned on previous occasions that the Competition Committee will revisit blocks toward the knee so we don’t have situations like Brian Cushing with the Houston Texans losing a season on a block like that. Is the long-term goal of player safety to create a baseball-type of strike zone, which is mid-chest to just above the knee? Have your studies shown that this is the safest way to avoid the head injuries and maybe some of the lower-limb extremity issues?

“There are several things. First, we’re going to review all low blocks. In working with our Player Advisory Committee that Ronnie Lott and John Madden chair we talked about that earlier this year shortly after the Brian Cushing injury. We need to review all of those low blocks. It’s important for us to try to find ‘Is there a better way of doing what we’re doing?’ We are focused on that with the Competition Committee. As it relates to what you call the ‘strike zone’, there is no question that there is a focus to try to get back to the fundamentals of tackling. The number one issue is: take the head out of the game. I think we’ve seen in the last several decades that the players are using their head more than they have, when you go back several decades. There are several theories on that. The helmets are better; they feel safer using their head. The facemask. You can come up with a lot of theories that we’ve discussed. But the reality is we have to get back to tackling, using the shoulders, using your arms properly to tackle. And there is a strike zone, and that’s where we are encouraging our players to focus and our coaches to coach that way, and it’s made a difference. We have seen a dramatic change in the way that’s happening over the years, so we’ll continue that.”

Vincent Gray, the Mayor of Washington D.C., recently said if the Redskins were ever going to entertain the idea of coming back to the District, there would have to be discussion about the name issue. Recently, the most recent “Indian Country Today” polls, the largest Native American magazine, they dispute and contradict everything Sports Illustrated or the NFL did about 10 years ago. They say that the overwhelming number of Indians, American Indians, do not like the name, they feel it’s offensive: Does the league try to absorb the legal costs for the team when they are sued over trademark infringement by American Indians? And, as a progressive commissioner, how do you feel about the name, and do you have any problem with it going forward?

“Well, the first part of your question, I couldn’t answer. I have no idea who pays the legal costs. I do know that, growing up in Washington, I do understand the affinity for that name with the fans. I also understand the other side of that, and I don’t think anybody wants to offend anybody, but this has been discussed several times over a long period of time. I think Dan Snyder and the organization have made it very clear that they’re proud of that heritage and that name, and I believe the fans are, too.”

The various committees that are down here for next year’s Super Bowl have talked a lot about feeling a little bit of pressure carrying the banner for cold-weather cities. Is what they do next year, and the success or problems of the logistical challenge they have, will that affect your future decisions or consideration of other cold-weather sites?

“The answer is undoubtedly the game next year is going to have an impact on future decisions for open-air, cold-weather sites. We believe, though, in the New York/New Jersey market. We think it’s going to be a fantastic event. I have said many times before, and I believe that the membership has supported this through their vote of awarding the Super Bowl there, that not only is the community prepared for this – they have a great stadium with two teams. The plans that have been developed for the Super Bowl, I think, are extraordinary, and they’re just beginning to be released, and we will be prepared for the weather factors, and this community can do that, but the game of football is made to be played in the elements. Now, we hope they’re not extreme on one hand, but we’ll be prepared for that if that’s the case. Some of our most classic games in our history were played in extreme weather conditions. We know them all, the ‘Ice Bowl,’ some of the games that I look back as a fan and say, ‘That was fun.’ So I’m confident the people of New York and New Jersey, the two teams, the host committee are going to do an extraordinary job next year, and we’re looking forward to it.”

The largest attendance in the history of the league is in Mexico. The first game outside the U.S. was in Mexico. I wanted to ask you why hasn’t the NFL gone back since 2005. Why?

“I’m proud to say I was at that game, and it was a great event. And you could see the passion of the fans in Mexico for that game, and we would like to be back there. Our focus in the last couple of years has obviously been on trying to prove the model works in the UK. We have to make sure that whenever we do come back to Mexico, and I expect we will, that we do it successfully, with the right kind of television support, fan support and sponsor involvement. The stadium will be the kind of stage that we want for that game. So I would expect if we are successful in the UK, where we thankfully are continuing to grow, that we’ll have the opportunity to get back there. And the sooner, the better for me.”

Any time frame?

“No.”

Yesterday the union talked about filing multiple grievances against the NFL, and it recently appealed its collusion loss in the Minnesota federal court to the eighth circuit. Are you disappointed the relationship with the union has remained so litigious?

“Well, Dan, let me start with, the point is I don’t really control that. What I think disappoints me is that we reached a very comprehensive agreement a couple of years ago for 10 years to take the game to another level, and unfortunately we’re spending most of our time focusing on issues that we had agreed to. As you point out, collusion charges, which were very clearly dealt with in the agreement. HGH was agreed to and we should have gotten to the point where we solved our differences and gotten that resolved. Commissioner discipline – I can go on. These are things that were resolved and are clear in the document and in our partnership. What we need to do is get back to focusing on how do we all work together to make the NFL better? I understand we’re going to have differences, I understand why there are grievances, I understand why there are lawyers, but we have to find solutions for the best interests of the game, and that’s my commitment and that’s what we have to work towards.”

Addressing the player safety issue, you said it’s a shared responsibility. Well, earlier this year Alex Smith sustained a concussion, was forthcoming about his condition and while he was out, he lost his starting job. My question for you is, how concerned are you that going forward players are going to be less honest about their condition after seeing a situation like that?

“I believe very strongly that there’s a difference between a medical decision and a football decision. I’m glad that he came forward and identified that he had an injury. That wouldn’t be in the best interest of Alex in the short term or the long term, so players need to do that. I also believe, and he’s been healthy for several weeks, that those are football decisions that the coach has now made. He’s healthy enough to return to play, but the coaches made a decision that they’re going in another direction, and that’s something that the coaches have to do. So while I understand somewhat the dilemma, the highest priority you can have is for players to make sure that they raise their hands when there’s an injury and so that they can get the proper treatment, because they’re not going to be effective as players if they have lingering problems, if they have lingering issues with a concussion. They need to be as healthy as possible to compete in this league, and we all want to see the players on the field, but we let the coaches make the football decisions and the medical personnel make the medical decisions.”

First of all, do you feel welcome here in New Orleans given the way people feel about you in light of the bounty scandal? We have establishments that have your picture that say, ‘Do not serve this man,’ or do you feel somewhat like you’re behind enemy lines? Secondly, Saints fans want to know why you won’t return that second-round draft choice in the next draft?

“Let me take the first part of your question first. I couldn’t feel more welcome here. You know when you look back at it, my picture, as you point out, is in every restaurant. I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade. We got a voodoo doll. I’m serious, really, the people here have been incredible. The last couple of nights I’ve been out with a lot of the people that I worked very closely with following the Katrina tragedy, and we celebrated the work that we did then, but what we did is we all reflected on how great that was that we worked together, and they couldn’t be nicer. They couldn’t be more welcoming, and the same is true with fans. Now, I understand the fans’ loyalty is to the team. They had no part of this. They were completely innocent in this. So I appreciate the passion. I saw that for myself when we were down here for Katrina, and it’s clear that that’s what they’re all about. So I support the fact that they’re passionate in supporting their team. On the last point, the reason there won’t be any change in the second-round draft choice is what I said earlier. There are clear violations of the bounty rule for three consecutive years. That’s not going to be permitted in the NFL. That’s not just my judgment. Commissioner Tagliabue reviewed this, and had his own process and came to the same conclusion that there were violations. So, the reason why we’re not returning any of the draft choices or any of the discipline is because it occurred, and it should not have occurred.”

Kind of piggybacking off that question, yesterday I talked with NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth, and he said because of the bounty scandal and everything that’s happened, trust has been fractured from the players within the league. How do you fix that considering penalties were levied, and then they were vacated twice by parties other than you?

“Let’s make sure the record is clear that the first penalties were vacated only briefly to make sure that there was a distinction between what was a salary-cap violation and what was discipline on the field. That body, the panel that was established by the CBA, made it very clear that that’s the authority of the commissioner. The second issue is Commissioner Tagliabue and I agree on the facts. There was no difference in the findings of the facts with respect to the investigation done by the league overseen by Mary Jo White, verified by Commissioner Tagliabue’s process. The only difference was that he vacated the disciple from the players. We disagree with that. I disagree with that. I believe that we’re all responsible for what goes on in our locker rooms, on the field, as part of our game. That’s a collective responsibility. We’re not going to hide from that. That will be something that – and I said it to our clubs in December when we met – everyone here should understand the responsibility for our rules will be enforced as fairly and as clearly as possible. So I’m going to have to work harder to try to make sure that we can work together; we can trust one another. But we also need to make sure that we understand that we’re going to have differences from time to time, and that’s OK. But there needs to be a fair resolution and move forward in a positive way for the game of football.”

Could you tell us what the selling out of two games in London for 2013, what kind of message that says to your ownership with regard to potential UK franchises?

“I think the message is very clear. There are passionate fans that love the NFL in the UK and, I believe, globally, and that there is another step that we need to look forward to in London. We’re already beginning that process. What’s the next step, beyond the two games? Should we move to three? Should we consider other alternatives to continue to accelerate the growth of the game in the UK? But I think that’s a positive reaction from the fans and our ownership understands this is a market where we need to be more active, and that we need to continue to grow our game. Thank you.”

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Bills release Chris Williams after failed physical

Chris Williams Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills released guard Chris Williams after he failed a physical with the team on Tuesday.

The former 2008 first-round pick of the Chicago Bears played in three games for the Bills last season after signing a four-year deal with the team last offseason. However, a back injury led to Williams being placed on injured reserve in October.

Williams hasn’t been able to perform at a high level consistently throughout his career. After five sub-par seasons with the Bears, Williams signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2012. He appeared in 19 games for the Rams over two season, including starting all 16 games in 2013 before moving on to Buffalo.

Richie Incognito appears to be the favorite to replace Williams as the team’s starting left guard this season.

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Eric Berry is cleared to practice on Wednesday

Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

And now it’s time for a little good news. Or a lot of great news.

The Chiefs have announced that safety Eric Berry has been cleared to return to practice on Wednesday, when the team launches training camp. The final decision came Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, coach Andy Reid and trainer Rick Burkholder will address the situation at a press conference.

Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in December of 2014. He immediately started treatments, and he concluded the process in June.

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Brady offered to help NFL gather missing text messages

Phone Getty Images

If nothing else, the NFL can (when it wants to) master the art of public relations. Sure, the league screwed the pooch in the Ray Rice debacle last year, failing to realize that a video existed or that it would inevitably be leaked. But while the #DeflateGate episode has featured many very real flaws regarding the substance of the case, the league has done a great job of getting its messages out in a strong, clear way.

It started, of course, with the mistaken air pressure information from the initial letter to the Patriots, in which league executive Dave Gardi told the team that one of the footballs measured at 10.1 PSI — even though none of them were that low. It quickly continued with the leak of blatantly false information to ESPN that 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs were a full two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. This cemented the notion that someone deflated the footballs, leaving only two questions: (1) who did it?; and (2) who knew about it?

Months later, it became clear that the information was incorrect. But the damage already had been done, with a curiosity instantly morphing into a multi-million-dollar investigation and the Patriots thrown against the ropes from the outset of the fight.

The P.R. mastery continued with the release of the Ted Wells report, which created the initial widespread impression that the Patriots cheated, and that quarterback Tom Brady knew about it. By the time those in the media inclined to digest the 243-page opus began to notice the warts, the narrative had been locked in by those who admittedly didn’t bother to roll up their sleeves and start reading.

The coup de grâce came Tuesday morning, when the league leaked to ESPN that “Brady destroyed his cell phone,” locking in the notion that something sinister — and irreparable — had occurred. The press release announcing the decision likewise focused on the destruction of the cell phone, raising eyebrows from sea to shining sea and reinforcing for many the idea that Brady had something to hide, and that he tried to hide it.

But like the much longer Wells report, closer inspection of the Goodell decision undermines the primary conclusion. And, as usual, the Achilles heel can be found in a footnote.

Specifically, it can be found at footnote 11 on page 12: “After the hearing and after the submission of post-hearing briefs, Mr. Brady’s certified agents offered to provide a spreadsheet that would identify all of the individuals with whom Mr. Brady had exchanged text messages during [the relevant time] period; the agents suggested that the League could contact those individuals and request production of any relevant text messages that they retained. Aside from the fact that, under Article 46, Section 2(f) of the CBA, such information could and should have been provided long before the hearing, the approach suggested in the agents’ letter — which would require tracking down numerous individuals and seeking consent from each to retrieve from their cellphones detailed information about their text message communications during the relevant period — is simply not practical.”

In English, here’s what the footnote means: Although the text messages couldn’t be retrieved directly from Brady’s phone, his agents provided all of the phone numbers with which Brady exchanged text messages. His agents also said that the league could attempt to get the actual text messages from the phones of the people with whom Brady communicated, but the league refused to attempt to try, claiming that it would be too hard to track down the various people and to persuade them to cooperate.

How hard would it be? Goodell’s ruling points out that “nearly 10,000 text messages” were exchanged on Brady’s phone in a four-month period, but Goodell’s ruling doesn’t provide the total volume of numbers that sent text messages to or received text messages from Brady’s “destroyed” phone. At an average of 2,500 text messages sent and received per month, which works out to an average of 83 sent and received per day (with some people surely sending and receiving a lot of short messages to and from Brady), how many people was he actually communicating with?

More importantly, how many of those people are Patriots employees, how many are family members, how many are friends, how many are people who would have no reason to be saying anything to or hearing anything from Brady about this specific case?

“I very much look forward to hearing from Mr. Brady and to considering any new information or evidence that he may bring to my attention,” Goodell said last month. And so Brady admits that he has a habit of dismantling his phone when he buys a new one, he provides the full list of phone numbers with which the dismantled phone communicated, and Goodell nevertheless refuses to try to identify the persons with whom Brady exchanged messages or to obtain the actual content of them, despite the commitment to “considering any new information or evidence.”

The league arguably opted not to track down the text messages or to match them up with text messages that the league already harvested from other phones, like the one used by John Jastremski, because the league already had the silver bullet it needed to win convincingly in the court of public opinion.

Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone. 

It was expertly leaked to ESPN by the same league office that had expertly leaked the 11-of-12 footballs falsehood to ESPN.

Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.

It’s a theme that will be adhered to even though Brady made available the phone numbers necessary to reconstructing the contents of the messages.

Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.

The details don’t matter once the message takes root. For #DeflateGate, a couple of giant oaks are growing at the NFL’s equivalent of Toomer’s Corner. The first one? 11 of 12 footballs were two pounds under the minimum PSI.

The second?

Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone.

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Jeromey Mincey a no-show for Cowboys camp

Unknown Getty Images

Dez Bryant will be at Cowboys training camp. At least for now, Jeremey Mincey won’t be.

Per multiple reports surfacing at roughly the same time (i.e., group text message from agent), Mincey has not reported to the team’s training camp in Oxnard, California.

Via Adam Schefter of ESPN, Mincey ranks 70th on the league-wide list of defensive ends. Efforts to get him a raise have been unsuccessful.

Mincey signed a two-year, $3 million contract last year, which included a $500,000 signing bonus. Since he’s still under contract, Mincey risks fines in the amount of $30,000 per day.

He’s due to earn a base salary of $1.5 million, with a cap hit of $1.75 million. Mincey started all 16 games last year, racking up six sacks.

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Antonio Smith will participate in training camp for Broncos

antonio-smith-ninja Getty Images

As Texas authorities continue to investigate Broncos defensive lineman Antonio Smith, the Broncos won’t continue to keep Smith on the shelf.

Smith will report to training camp, pending whatever prosecutors or the NFL decide to do about his situation.

“We’ve been in communication with Antonio and the league for the last couple of months,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “Based on those discussions, it’s appropriate for Antonio to be here and compete with the rest of the team as we begin training camp.”

While it’s unclear whether Smith will face child abuse charges in a case reportedly sexual in nature, it appears that he’s not destined for paid leave in the imminent future. Which means that any preliminary investigation conducted by the NFL has yet to result in a conclusion that it’s more likely that not that Smith engaged in any type of misconduct.

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NFL offered Brady “at least 50 percent” reduction in exchange for admission of guilt

MakeADeal

Before Roger Goodell the Arbitrator upheld Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four game suspension, Roger Goodell the Commissioner offered to make a deal with Brady.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL was willing to drop the suspension by “at least 50 percent” if Brady: (1) admitted to having knowledge of whatever John Jastremski and Jim McNally were doing to the footballs; (2) admitted to failing to cooperate with the Ted Wells investigation; and (3) apologized.

It’s believed that Brady’s suspension would have been dropped at least to two games, with the possibility of dropping it to one if he were sufficiently persuasive and profuse in his acceptance of guilt.

Although Goodell has ruled, settlement talks can continue because the litigation is just getting started. And if Brady were inclined to cry “uncle,” he could get the suspension reduced by two (or maybe three) games.

Unless the federal judge who ultimately handles the case tells Brady that he’ll definitely lose in court if he doesn’t take the deal, Brady likely won’t be settling. Even then, he may prefer not accepting responsibility and sitting out four games to confessing and cutting it in half.

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Jen Welter: Coaching in the NFL is a dream girls can have

Arizona Cardinals Introduce Levon Kirkland and Jen Welter Getty Images

New Cardinals coaching intern Jen Welter, the first woman to work on an NFL coaching staff, is hoping girls will see what she’s doing and dream of being not just the next Jen Welter, but the next Pete Carroll or Bill Belichick.

Welter said today that she fell in love with football as a little girl, but she didn’t think there was a future in football for women. Playing in a minor professional football league, however, made her think differently and begin to look for opportunities in coaching.

“I didn’t even dream that it was possible. And I think the beauty of this is that though it’s a dream I never had, now it’s a dream that other girls can have. I guess if that makes me a trailblazer, then I’m honored,” Welter said.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians noted that two of his previous interns were hired this year as full-time assistant coaches, and Welter may get that opportunity some day. And a generation of girls watching Welter today may one day live in a world where it’s not even news when an NFL team hires a female coach.

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John Mara: “Very disappointing” Pierre-Paul didn’t let team see him

John Mara AP

Jason Pierre-Paul kept the Giants at arm’s length while recovering from the loss of a finger in a fireworks accident.

And Giants co-owner John Mara thinks his franchise-tagged defensive end is receiving bad counsel.

Via Steve Serby of the New York Post, Mara said it was “very disappointing” that Pierre-Paul would not allow Giants officials to visit him in the hospital, and that he had “no idea” when Pierre-Paul would report.

“I don’t think JPP is receiving very good advice right now,’’ Mara said. “He has told people that he’s fine and he’s going to be ready to play, but until we see the hand, we’re just not sure.”

The Giants report to camp Thursday, though Pierre-Paul is not expected to be there after the severe injuries suffered on July 4th.

When asked his initial reaction to the news, Mara said it wasn’t fit for print.

“I think I may have used some language that I wouldn’t like my grandchildren to hear me use,’’ Mara said. “I could not believe, that here we haven’t even gone to training camp yet and we’ve lost two starters — one [left tackle Will Beatty] in the weight room and one to a fireworks accident. So it was more of a state of disbelief that I was in. I’ve been around a long time, seen a lot of things, . . . but this one was a shock.’’

Mara also wasn’t prepared to discuss how it would affect Pierre-Paul’s contractual future with the team. He hasn’t signed his $14.8 million tender and the team hasn’t rescinded it, though they did pull their long-term offer off the table.

But until they can get a good look at him, they won’t know how to proceed.

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Patriots: “Extremely disappointed” in Goodell’s Brady decision

Roger Goodell, Robert Kraft

Patriots owner Robert Kraft effectively threw up his hands in regards to the team penalties which stemmed from #DeflateGate.

But that doesn’t mean they’re going along quietly with the four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady, issuing a strongly worded statement regarding commissioner Roger Goodell’s refusal to overturn his own sentence, basically saying the league is assassinating Brady’s character.

“We are extremely disappointed in today’s ruling by Commissioner Goodell,” the team statement read. “We cannot comprehend the league’s position in this matter. Most would agree that the penalties levied originally were excessive and unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the league has no hard evidence of wrongdoing. We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady. We also believe that the laws of science continue to underscore the folly of this entire ordeal.

“Given all of this, it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives.”

Brady already has the NFLPA eager to fight on his behalf, and Kraft took the position of a good company man when he yielded to the league’s $1 million fine and loss of first- and fourth-round draft picks. Based on today’s statement, you wonder if he’d be so willing again.

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NFLPA calls Brady decision “outrageous”

outrageous

In response to the decision upholding his four-game suspension, Tom Brady has spoken. Through his agent.

Brady also has spoken, sort of, through his union.

“The Commissioner’s ruling today did nothing to address the legal deficiencies of due process,” the NFL Players Association said in a statement. “The NFL remains stuck with the following facts.”

The statement then lists the following facts, with bullet points: (1) the NFL “had no policy that applied to players”; (2) the NFL “provided no notice of any such policy or potential discipline to players”; (3) the NFL “resorted to a nebulous standard of ‘general awareness’ to predicate a legally unjustified punishment; (4) the NFL “had no procedures in place until two days ago to test air pressure in footballs”; and (5) the NFL “violated the plain meaning” of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“The fact that the NFL would resort to basing a suspension on a smoke screen of irrelevant text messages instead of admitting that they have all of the phone records they asked for is a new low, even for them, but it does nothing to correct their errors,” the statement asserts. “The NFLPA will appeal this outrageous decision on behalf of Tom Brady.”

The points raised in the statement surely will be reflected in the forthcoming legal documents from the NFLPA, which surely will not focus on Brady’s admission that he destroyed his cell phone on the same day he was due to meet with Ted Wells but on the overall flaws in the process.

But here’s the thing. If those are the arguments the NFLPA had previously planned to make on Brady’s behalf, why did he even testify at the appeal hearing? The points raised above could have been established via stipulation or other evidence. Having Brady admit that he destroyed the phone interjected an issue that will hamper Brady in the court of public opinion — and that could prompt a judge to conclude at a visceral level that justice requires upholding the suspension.

Although the destruction of the phone may not be relevant to any of the issues raised in the litigation challenging the suspension, skilled judges can find a way to get to whichever conclusion they believe is justified, even if the motivation to arrive at that destination comes from facts technically irrelevant to the specific issues presented in a given case.

In other words, if the presiding judge (whoever it ends up being) believes Brady’s hands are dirty, the judge will likely be able to find a way to rule accordingly, even if the written decision never mentions the destruction of the cell phone.

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Saints release Brodrick Bunkley

Mark Ingram, Brodrick Bunkley AP

The Saints have said goodbye to another member of last year’s defense.

Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was released on Tuesday after failing a physical. Bunkley tore his quad last season and ended the year on injured reserve before taking a pay cut to remain with the team this offseason. The team also released linebacker Junior Galette this week.

Bunkley started 11 games with the Saints last season and spent the last three seasons as a regular on the team’s defensive line. He had 18 tackles and could help someone’s rotation as a run defender if he can show he’s healthy enough to contribute this season. The Saints

The Saints signed Kevin Williams this offseason to increase their options up front and 2013 third-round pick John Jenkins returns for a third year with the team.

New Orleans also placed safety Jairus Byrd, wide receiver Marques Colston and defensive tackle Glenn Foster on the physically unable to perform list. Byrd did limited work this offseason after last year’s season-ending knee injury while neither Foster nor Colston did much work during the spring. Cornerback Brian Dixon was also placed on the non-football injury list.

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Carlos Hyde, three other 49ers land on non-football injury list

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The 49ers will likely be looking for a bigger contribution from running back Carlos Hyde this season, but they’ll have to wait a little bit before he makes any contribution on the practice field.

Hyde was one of four 49ers placed on the non-football injury list on Tuesday. The 49ers didn’t reveal the reason for the move and Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle reports the only health news about Hyde this offseason was a muscle pull in late May. Branch also reports that Hyde isn’t expected to be on the NFI list for long, so it doesn’t appear to be anything serious.

Branch offers the same report for the expected return of linebacker Aaron Lynch and offensive lineman Trent Brown, who join Hyde and wide receiver DeAndre Smelter on the list to open camp. Offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore was placed on the physically unable to perform list.

All five players are eligible to be activated at any point during training camp and will be ineligible for the regular season version of the lists when and if they are given the green light.

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Dontari Poe could miss start of season after back surgery

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers AP

The Chiefs defense will be without cornerback Sean Smith while he serves a suspension to start the season and they may also be without nose tackle Dontari Poe.

The team revealed, via the Associated Press, Tuesday that Poe had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back on July 15. Poe initially hurt his back during the team’s offseason workouts and aggravated the injury while working out on his own to prepare for training camp.

Trainer Rick Burkholder said that Poe is out indefinitely and his absence could stretch into the regular season. Jaye Howard will step into Poe’s spot on the defensive line with Mike DeVito and sixth-round pick Rakeem Nunez-Roches also possibilities to see time on the nose while Poe recovers from the surgery.

Whoever is in Poe’s place will be hard pressed to provide the team with the same kind of impact that Poe gives them up front. With trips to Houston and Green Bay sandwiched around a visit from the Broncos in the first three weeks, the Chiefs will need everyone on defense to step up to avoid a rough start to the season in the event Poe can’t go.

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Panthers sign two tackles

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Tackle Jonathan Martin chose to retire on Monday and the Panthers responded on Tuesday by adding a pair of players at the position.

The team announced that they have signed Tony Hills and Davonte Wallace while also releasing running back Darrin Reaves.

Hills was a fourth-round pick of the Steelers in 2008 and played four games for them in 2010 before moving on to stints with the Broncos, Colts and Cowboys. He started one game for Indianapolis in 2012 and saw action in four contests for the Cowboys last season. Wallace spent time with the Dolphins as an undrafted rookie last year, but has never played in a regular season game.

The new arrivals join Michael Oher, Mike Remmers, Nate Chandler and fourth-round pick Daryl Williams on the depth chart. Oher and Remmers are projected to be the starters come September.

Reaves ran for 78 yards on 31 carries and caught five passes in six appearances with Carolina last season.

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Tom Brady’s agent calls NFL appeal process “a sham”

Tom Brady Says He Didn't Alter Footballs In Colts Game Getty Images

After NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, Brady’s agent ripped the decision.

In a statement distributed this afternoon, agent Don Yee called the league’s appeals process “a sham” and insisted that Brady has done nothing wrong in Deflategate.

“The Commissioner’s decision is deeply disappointing, but not surprising because the appeal process was thoroughly lacking in procedural fairness,” Yee said. “Most importantly, neither Tom nor the Patriots did anything wrong. And the NFL has no evidence that anything inappropriate occurred.

“The appeal process was a sham, resulting in the Commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision. For example, the Wells investigative team was given over 100 days to conduct its investigation. Just days prior to the appeal hearing, we were notified that we would only have four hours to present a defense; therefore, we didn’t have enough time to examine important witnesses. Likewise, it was represented to the public that the Wells team was ‘independent’; however, when we requested documents from Wells, our request was rejected on the basis of privilege. We therefore had no idea as to what Wells found from other witnesses, nor did we know what those other witnesses said.

“These are just two examples of how the Commissioner failed to ensure a fair process.

“Additionally, the science in the Wells Report was junk. It has been thoroughly discredited by independent third parties.

“Finally, as to the issue of cooperation, we presented the Commissioner with an unprecedented amount of electronic data, all of which is incontrovertible. I do not think that any private citizen would have agreed to provide anyone with the amount of information that Tom was willing to reveal to the Commissioner. Tom was completely transparent. All of the electronic information was ignored; we don’t know why. The extent to which Tom opened up his private life to the Commissioner will become clear in the coming days.

The Commissioner’s decision and discipline has no precedent in all of NFL history. His decision alters the competitive balance of the upcoming season. The decision is wrong and has no basis, and it diminishes the integrity of the game.”

Although Yee’s statement doesn’t say so, Brady is expected to take the NFL to court in an effort to have the suspension overturned.

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