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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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Report: Jason Pierre-Paul injured in fireworks accident

Indianapolis Colts v New York Giants Getty Images

For many of us, last night was a chance to blow off some steam, if not some fingers.

But Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul might have gotten a little too close to the action.

According to Andy Slater of WINZ in Miami, Pierre-Paul “severely injured” his hand in a fireworks accident last night.

A woman who said she was his neighbor tweeted out a photo of a “truck load of fireworks,” showing large boxes in a van.

Details at this point are few, but this could potentially have a huge impact on him and the Giants, as he hasn’t signed his franchise tender worth $14.8 million, and they’d have a tremendous lack of pass rush without him if he missed an extended amount of time.

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New U-T San Diego columns argues city may be better off without Chargers

Breakup

As the Chargers prepare to break up with San Diego, San Diego seems to be preparing to tell the Chargers, “I. Am Breaking up with you.”

Beyond the unscientific U-T San Diego poll that shows a preference to keep Comic-Con over keeping the Chargers, a new column from Dan McSwain of U-T San Diego argued that the town may be better off without the team.

McSwain calls a new stadium “a bad business deal for the public,” with hidden costs beyond up-front taxpayer expenses driving the contribution much higher. Then there’s the question of whether having an NFL team in town actually generates significant revenue.

As a practical matter, the column gives those not inclined to subsidize a new NFL stadium more ammunition for arguments with those who do. And if gives those who are on the fence about the issue ammunition for coming to a conclusion that having the Chargers move 90 miles up the road may not be such a bad thing.

Ultimately, it gives San Diego a way to fire a middle finger back at the franchise that currently is displaying both of them in the direction of the city.

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Ron Wolf knows Holmgren failed in Cleveland because he couldn’t find a quarterback

Holmgren Getty Images

Soon, Ron Wolf will enter the Hall of Fame in Canton. Just up the road resides a team with which he has multiple connections.

In addition to a short stint with the Browns in 2004 that ended quickly because then-coach Butch Davis “got a bee up wherever one gets a bee up,” Wolf had a key role in recommending the hire of Mike Holmgren as CEO by former owner Randy Lerner.

So what went wrong in Cleveland for the guy who coached the Packers team Wolf built to a Super Bowl win?

It didn’t work,” Wolf tells the Canton Repository. “I don’t know the reason why it didn’t.”

And then Wolf touched on the potential reason..

“They tried to bring a quarterback in,” Wolf said. “They brought [Colt] McCoy in, and it didn’t work. They brought [Brandon] Weeden in, and it didn’t work.”

The decision to use a first-round pick on Weeden confused Wolf.

“I was shocked when they brought Weeden in only because, from being around Mike, his first thing about a quarterback was feet,” Wolf said. “It was the first thing Mike talked about . . . feet. That guy had no feet. . . .

“To me, the No. 1 tenet in the game is, you’ve got to have a quarterback. If you don’t have a quarterback, then you can’t play. They didn’t get that guy.”

The Browns are still looking for that guy, an admission that 2014 first-rounder Johnny Manziel likely won’t become that guy and an acknowledgement that veteran Josh McCown is merely the dog-paddle option while they keep searching for that guy.

As long as there are NFL teams looking for that guy, plenty of guys who already are that guy with another team will be paid plenty of dollars to keep that guy from becoming that guy with another team.

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Mike Tice: Trent Richardson’s “quickness came around”

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There’s no clearer sign that running back Trent Richardson’s career has not gone as planned than the fact that he’s starting his fourth NFL season on his third team after being the third overall pick by the Browns in the 2012 draft.

If there’s an optimistic spin to put on Richardson signing with the Raiders after an ineffective pair of years in Indianapolis following a trade with Cleveland for a first-round pick, it’s that Richardson will get a fresh start with a new coaching staff. While discussing all of the team’s options at running back, offensive line coach Mike Tice said that the Alabama product has made a good early impression in Oakland.

“Each one has their own style,” Tice said on Sirius XM NFL Radio, via the Raiders website. “I like the [Latavius] Murray kid. He really came on in that veteran mini-camp. He got his legs under him and showed some quickness, some good finish. I thought the young man out of Alabama came on. He lost some weight, his quickness came around.”

Richardson hasn’t gotten high marks on quickness in his first two stops, making Tice’s observation a step in the right direction for a player who hasn’t taken enough of them in the last three years.

The Raiders also have Roy Helu, whose “nice hands” got a compliment from Tice as well, so there’s plenty of competition for playing time in Oakland this season. Murray is at the top of that list, but Richardson may work himself into another chance if he can keep doing things that the coaching staff likes once camp gets underway.

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Packers issue statement on Andrew Quarless, saying little

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

After Packers tight end Andrew Quarless was accused of firing two shots during an argument with a group of women, it wouldn’t have been at all surprising if the Packers had issued a statement saying they had cut him. So the Packers’ actual statement is good news for Quarless.

Instead of cutting him immediately, the Packers have issued the boilerplate statement that teams often issue when a player finds himself in off-field trouble.

“We are aware of the matter involving Andrew Quarless and are in the process of gathering more information. We will withhold further comment,” the team’s statement said.

Unless the “more information” the Packers gather shows that he’s been falsely accused, there’s still a very good chance he’s going to find himself unemployed before the start of training camp.

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Odell Beckham: One-handed catch “still a little crazy to me”

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Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham made several big plays during his rookie season, but any list of his highlights will start with his leaping, one-handed touchdown catch against the Cowboys on November 23.

The Giants lost the game, although that didn’t do anything to dim the luster of Beckham’s grab in the days, weeks and months after the game. In an interview to accompany his naked photos in ESPN the Magazine, Beckham said it is “unfortunate, in a way, to be known only for ‘the catch'” because of all the things he accomplished as a rookie.

Acclaim for Beckham’s rookie output went well beyond praise for that catch, which even Beckham finds it hard to believe he pulled off.

“When I watch it, I’m like, ‘Wow, that really happened!’ It’s still a little crazy to me. I envisioned myself making some kind of catch in the end zone, but I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be,” Beckham said. “You have to have a picture of what you want to do before you can do it — I learned that from [Cardinals safety] Tyrann Mathieu. I knew that I was capable of it, but just seeing it and the reaction to it, it was by far the craziest thing that has ever happened to me.”

As long as Beckham is healthy, something the team can’t take for granted after more hamstring trouble this offseason, there should be plenty more highlights to come in 2015. None of them may surpass his catch against the Cowboys, but it will be even harder to believe that anyone knows him just for one catch if he can replicate the rest of his 2014 work.

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Ronde Barber sees “zero fear” in Jameis Winston

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Minicamp Getty Images

Former Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber struck plenty of fear in the hearts of quarterbacks, thanks to a level of versatility that made his approach to any given play unpredictable. But Barber apparently wouldn’t have rattled new Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, because Barber sees in Winston a guy who won’t get rattled.

[H]e plays with zero fear,” Barber recently said, via JoeBucsFan.com. “He’ll let go of any ball. He has that confidence.

“I’ve played against guys that have supreme confidence in themselves and their ability to make plays. You can already see it. He has no fear letting the ball go.”

Barber said he has seen fear from Winston’s predecessor at Florida State, EJ Manuel.

“He’s timid. He holds the ball,” Barber said of Manuel. “He’s scared to deliver it when he needs to. [Winston] is the complete opposite, maybe to a detriment at times. He throws a lot of interceptions.”

Despite the interception, Barber used what he dubbed a “tired-ass cliche” in saying Winston has “that ‘it,’ that bravado, that gunslinger mentality.”

Still, the mentality has to be matched by the physicality. Can Winston hold up between the white lines against the freakish athletes who play defense in the NFL? If the answer to that question is no, he’ll end up losing his bravado, quickly.

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Austin Collie catches TD in CFL debut

AFC Championship: New England Patriots Vs. Denver Broncos Getty Images

July is a very slow month in the NFL until training camps open and July 4 falling on Saturday means it has been even quieter than usual the last few days, but it was opening weekend for the B.C. Lions in the CFL.

That meant it was also time for wide receiver Austin Collie to get back on a field for a meaningful game since he was with the Patriots during the 2013 season. Collie’s NFL career, most of which was spent with the Colts, was derailed by concussions, but he’s healthy and made a positive impact in a losing cause for the Lions.

Collie caught five passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, suggesting he’s right to feel that his tank isn’t on empty yet.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s so much for the love of the game,” Collie said, via the Salt Lake Tribune. “I just felt like I wasn’t done. That feeling of not being done, that’s what kept my drive going.”

The Lions lost 27-16 to the Ottawa Redblacks in the debut for Collie and head coach Jeff Tedford, who was supposed to be the offensive coordinator in Tampa last year before a health problem kept him away from the team. Henry Burris, who had stints with the Packers and Bears, threw three touchdowns for Ottawa.

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Vick’s former dogfighting property returns to the spotlight

Vick AP

For multiple years, then-Falcons quarterback Mike Vick ran a dogfighting operation under the nose of Surry County, Virginia prosecutor Gerald Poindexter. Once the dogfighting operation was discovered, Poindexter created the impression in the opinion of some (including me) that he was dragging his feet, looking for a reason not to prosecute Vick. After the federal government swooped in an obtained an indictment, a guilty plea, and an admission from Vick that he had killed multiple dogs that were deemed unfit to fight, Poindexter still wasn’t even able to get an indictment from a grand jury on state-level charges of animal cruelty.

But Poindexter was able to initiate charges against the folks who transformed Vick’s property, the site of Bad Newz Kennels, into The Good Newz Rehab Center for Chained and Penned Dogs.

As explained by the Associated Press, Poindexter filed charges against the group’s founder and executive director, Tamira Thayne, after authorities seized a pit bull from the facility. She was accused of animal cruelty and failure to provide adequate care to a companion animal, but a judge later ordered that the dog be returned. Poindexter then dropped the charges.

That wasn’t the end of it. Thayne has filed a federal lawsuit against Surry County chief animal control officer Tracy Terry and others. The lawsuit states that the charges were rooted in retribution.

“Thayne has been an outspoken critic of Surry County, Prosecutor Gerald Poindexter, and Surry County Animal Control’s anemic handling of the Michael Vick dogfighting enterprise and belated prosecution,” the civil complaint alleges.

The case is ongoing, and the Good Newz Rehab Center continues to operate, rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting roughly 400 dogs. There are plans to expand Vick’s former property to house up to 50 dogs at a time.

Meanwhile, Vick continues to look for his next NFL opportunity, after five seasons with the Eagles and one with the Jets. There’s a belief that some teams have shied away from Vick and will continue to do so because of his dogfighting history. The publication of an AP story about his former dogfighting property during the NFL news void of Fourth of July weekend won’t make any teams that feel this way any more inclined to pursue him.

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Romo will move his fantasy football event to Los Angeles next year

Tony Romo AP

The NFL strong-armed Tony Romo into scrapping plans to host a fantasy football convention in Las Vegas. But Romo isn’t getting out of the fantasy football game.

Asked about the issue in an interview with his hometown newspaper in Burlington, Wisconsin, Romo said he was disappointed to miss the opportunity to interact with fans at the convention, but he’s going to do it again next year — in an NFL-approved venue.

“We just wanted a chance to have fans interact with their favorite players,” Romo said. “We’re going to do it next year in Los Angeles in 2016. It will be a chance to learn about fantasy football. You can learn about technique, why you should start someone versus certain coverages. Little things that the average person wouldn’t know the details on. It’d be neat to get out there and be up close with your favorite players. A bunch of Packers and Cowboys will be there. I still haven’t play fantasy football, but you see an avenue for the people to enjoy football.”

Romo was caught in the middle of the NFL’s seemingly contradictory efforts to embrace fantasy football while simultaneously distancing itself from gambling. Next year, when the league will likely be relocating a team to Los Angeles, the NFL will be all for Romo’s fantasy football event.

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Elvis Dumervil: If I get 23 sacks, we’ll be in Super Bowl

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Players can sometimes be criticized for putting individual goals ahead of team ones, but Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil has found a way to combine the two.

Dumervil enters this season 10 sacks shy of 100 for his career, but that’s not the major milestone that’s on his mind. Dumervil is taking aim at Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record by keeping a note with “23” written on it in his locker and he’s quick to point out that his motivation isn’t just about the accolades that would come from raising the bar.

“If I can hit that number, that’ll mean we’ll be in the Super Bowl for sure,” Dumervil said, via the Baltimore Sun. “You try to win games, you try to win championships. To me, there’s nothing more important, because you can have the stats and accolades, but if you’re sitting home, it really doesn’t do any justice.”

Dumervil was third in the NFL with 17 sacks last season, setting a new Ravens single-season record in the process, and he should continue to be a major threat to quarterbacks who also have to keep an eye on Dumervil’s teammate Terrell Suggs. Upping that number won’t be out of the question, although it will take more than a big year for Dumervil to land the Ravens a trip to Santa Clara next February.

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Sunday morning one-liners

AlDavis Getty Images

Five offensive playmakers to keep an eye on at Bills camp.

TE Arthur Lynch is hoping for a better second season with the Dolphins.

Seeing similarities between this year’s Patriots Defense and last year’s Lions unit.

QB Jake Heaps faces an uphill climb to make the Jets.

Breaking down the biggest questions about the Ravens.

DT Brandon Thompson could be a big part of the Bengals run defense.

Ron Wolf reminisced about his brief time with the Browns.

The Steelers have put together a team of their best players since 1992.

Five pass rushers the Texans will have to tangle with this season.

The Colts celebrated July 4 with a montage of national anthems.

Jaguars director of pro personnel Chris Driggers has been with the team since the beginning.

Five things to keep in mind regarding the Titans and QB Marcus Mariota.

Broncos players have kept tattoo artist Ortavio Griego busy in recent years.

The Chiefs are highlighting TE Travis Kelce’s best plays from last season.

Ten of the best quotes from late Raiders owner Al Davis.

How big a problem will TE Antonio Gates’s absence be for the Chargers?

Cowboys QB Tony Romo was nervous about throwing a pass to Luke Bryan during the Country Music Awards.

A look at the potential role for fullbacks in the Giants Offense.

The Eagles will miss facing some top defensive players thanks to suspensions early in the season.

Which Redskins backups could move into the starting lineup?

CB Kyle Fuller is learning his second scheme in as many years with the Bears.

Lions CB Darius Slay is acting as a mentor to rookie Alex Carter.

Looking ahead to training camp with Packers president Mark Murphy.

Reviewing a decade of Vikings ownership by the Wilf family.

The Falcons are one of the teams with a legitimate No. 1 receiver.

Amini Silatolu could be a key player on the Panthers offensive line.

A pre-camp preview of Saints WR Seantavius Jones.

What’s the deepest position on the Buccaneers roster?

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is one of many practitioners of deception in the world of sports.

Musing about whether the addition of QB Nick Foles makes the Rams a playoff team.

S Craig Dahl is one of the 49ers veterans who will be fighting for jobs at training camp.

Is Seahawks RB Christine Michael on the roster bubble?

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Dwayne Bowe: Josh McCown has my confidence high right now

2015 Cleveland Browns Mini Camp Practice Getty Images

Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe last scored a touchdown during the Chiefs’ 45-44 playoff loss to the Colts in January 2014, but he expects the drought to end once he takes the field for the Browns in a regular season game for the first time.

Bowe is expected to play a prominent role in the Cleveland offense with Josh Gordon suspended for the 2015 season and he says he’s up for the job. Bowe said he’ll play “touchdown man” in Gordon’s absence and that last year’s shutout in the end zone was a product of a lack of opportunities once Kansas City was close to scoring. It’s an assessment that Browns wide receivers coach Joker Phillips agrees with and one Bowe feels will change with Josh McCown at the controls of the offense.

“That’s what I’m going to show you guys,” Bowe said, via Cleveland.com. “It’s going to be exciting, especially with a new uniform, a new city, new everything, I’m going to feel good. With Alex Mack and Joe Thomas, we’re going to have a lot of time to hit that deep ball even in the red zone. I never had a quarterback like Josh that was that tall and could see the mismatch and really go to it. He’s got my confidence level high right now.”

Bowe has averaged about 59 catches and 743 yards per season over the last three years as the top receiver with the Chiefs, numbers that don’t scream replacement for Gordon for an offense that badly needs one. Bowe’s suggests that’s because his production was adversely impacted by the overall offense in Kansas City, something that should be put to the test early in the 2015 season.

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Jay Gruden says RG3 has grown, thanks to his new QB coach

Washington Redskins conduct OTAs Getty Images

In his first year as the head coach in Washington, Jay Gruden figured he could coach the quarterbacks himself. Gruden was a college and arena football quarterback, and he wanted to take a hands-on approach to the most important position.

But after franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III struggled last season, Gruden decided he needed an assistant who could spend all his time coaching the quarterbacks. So Gruden hired a full-time quarterbacks coach, Matt Cavanaugh. Gruden says he can already see that Griffin is benefiting from Cavanaugh’s presence.

“Now we have a set of eyes strictly on the quarterback, and I think that’s important,” Gruden said, via Richmond.com. “Every snap, every handoff, every dropback is being critiqued to make sure we do it the right way, and I think that’s been a big benefit for Robert.”

Cavanaugh spent 14 seasons as an NFL quarterback for the Patriots, 49ers, Eagles and Giants, and has spent 23 seasons as a quarterbacks coach, first at his alma mater the University of Pittsburgh, and then for the Cardinals, 49ers, Bears, Ravens and Jets. Griffin agrees that he’s benefiting from Cavanaugh’s knowledge.

“Bringing all that knowledge and experience, I think it’s helping everybody,” Griffin said. “He’s been with a lot of different teams and a lot of different offenses, and he knows a lot of different ways to get from point A to point B, and I think that helps us and helps me as a quarterback to go out there and see everything.”

Griffin’s 2014 season was a huge disappointment. Cavanaugh’s job is to get Griffin ready to turn things around in 2015.

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Quarless allegedly fired shots during argument with group of women

Quarless Getty Images

More details have emerged regarding the Miami misadventures of Packers tight end Andrew Quarless. And they don’t make the situation any better for Quarless.

According to the Miami New Times, the police report claims Quarless fired two shots — one into the air — from a semiautomatic .45 caliber handgun during an argument with a group of women.

The argument happened as Quarless and another man were leaving a parking garage in a Porsche Panamera (product placement!). The men approached another car containing several women. An attendant at the parking garage heard one of the women yell, “No, get away, leave me alone!”

According to the police report, Quarless produced the gun and fired two shots, one straight into the sky. One of the women later told police that Quarless fired the shots “in an attempt to emphasize his dominance and manhood.”

The parking attendant called police. According to the police report, Quarless left the Porsche and tried to hide the gun in a potted plant. Police found the gun and matched the shells found at the garage with the gun.

Quarless is charged only with a misdemeanor, but that won’t matter to 345 Park Avenue. Firing a weapon twice in public — including the firing of a round into the air — during a dispute with a group of women Quarless didn’t know will undoubtedly provoke harsh consequences in the post-Ray Rice NFL.

It also could provoke the Packers to consider dumping Quarless and his $1.3 million salary, unless they’re willing to pay him to not play, because Quarless is likely headed for paid leave pending the resolution of his case.

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