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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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Saban claims Manning and Gase visits were separate

Nick Saban AP

When Alabama coach Nick Saban revealed that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase had visited the Crimson Tide, it raised eyebrows as a potential violation of the NFL rules preventing players and coaches from meeting before the start of the offseason program. But now Saban says Manning and Gase didn’t meet together.

I am surprised to hear that anyone thought that what they were doing was in any way wrong. That’s what people get for assuming,” Saban told the Denver Post. “We did not talk Broncos football at all, other than Peyton asking questions about how he could get better as a player.”

Asked if Manning and Gase were in a meeting at the same time, Saban said, “Only to say hello.”

Gase got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant for Saban at LSU, and Saban characterized their meeting as personal, not professional.

“I only talked to Adam about his family. He talked to our assistant coaches,” Saban said.

The Denver Post story suggests that it’s not an issue because “Manning’s idea of vacation is talking football,” and so Manning won’t complain about it. But the rule doesn’t only exist to protect players from being forced by their coaches to do extra offseason work. It also exists to provide a level playing field for all 32 NFL teams. If Manning and Gase are permitted to travel together to study defenses during what’s supposed to be the players’ time off, they’re getting an unfair advantage over the teams that strictly obey the rules prohibiting any coaching from taking place at this point in the offseason.

Saban says that’s not how it happened. Saban is saying exactly what he needs to say to clear Manning and Gase of any wrongdoing, but the NFL has said it will look into the matter.

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Peyton gets paid $105,000 to speak at Oklahoma State

Peyton AP

Alabama coach Nick Saban got Peyton Manning’s time for free.  Oklahoma State had to pay a bit more.

According to the Tulsa World, Manning received $105,000 for a 30-minute speech and a 30-minute question-and-answer session in Stillwater.  The money was paid by the OSU Speakers Board.

So what did they get in return?  Apparently, a laundry list of fairly obvious lines that appear in any of the various motivational books that can be purchased for 99 cents on the clearance shelf.

“I challenge each of you in this arena tonight to invest your time to become a game-changer.  A game-changer looks deeper and senses something others don’t and then acts on it.”

“You either get better or worse every day.  You don’t stay the same.”

“Enjoy the journey, not the destination.”

“This is your world.  Own it.”

Actually, this isn’t our world.  It’s Peyton’s world.  The rest of us are just paying the rent.  At $105,000 per hour.

Seriously, though, we’ll never complain about a guy finding a way to get paid for his time.  We’re all worth whatever someone will pay, and OSU’s Speakers Board decided Manning is worth $105,000 per hour.  There’s not a thing wrong with Peyton collecting the cash.

But here’s the bigger issue.  At a time when the NCAA and various member institutions are fretting about how to afford the inevitable obligation to pay student-athletes, the fact that $105,000 can be scraped together by Oklahoma State for 60 minutes of cliché and rah-rah reconfirms that, when the time comes to cough up fair market value to the kids who are bringing in millions, the schools will find a way.

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Newton in a boot, still recovering from ankle surgery

Newton AP

It’s been a month since the surprise announcement that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton needs ankle surgery.  So how’s he doing four-plus weeks after having the procedure?

Darin Gantt of PFT, who covered the Panthers 14 years before joining this establishment nearly two years ago, reported during Friday night’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN that Newton remains in a boot — and that the team remains hopeful Newton will be back to 100 percent in time for training camp.

Of course, Newton may still miss all of the practice reps of the offseason program, which becomes more critical as the Panthers break in a bunch of new receivers.

The next time we hear Newton’s name inevitably will be when the Panthers exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which will pay him $13 million for 2015.  It’s only a matter of time before the Panthers pay him a lot more than that.

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Dominik predicts a slide for Manziel

Manziel Getty Images

Teddy Bridgewater isn’t the only 2014 quarterback prospect who received a dire prognosis from former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik on Friday.  Via Rotowold, Dominik also had some bad news for Johnny Manziel.

Dominik, who now works for ESPN, said on the air that Manziel “will fall a little more than people think” in the draft.

This assessment presumes that a consensus currently exists as to where Manziel will go.  It doesn’t.

As time passes, it seems less likely the Texans would use the first overall pick in the draft on Manziel.  After that, it gets fuzzy.  Could a team spring in front of Jacksonville (No. 3) and Cleveland (No. 4) to get Manziel with the No. 2 selection currently held by the Rams?  Possibly.

If he gets past No. 2 (and he likely will), the hot spots become Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland at No. 5 (very unlikely), Tampa Bay at No. 7, Minnesota at No. 8, and Tennessee at No. 11.

The Cowboys at No. 16 could be very intrigued by Manziel.  Perhaps sufficiently intrigued to trade up.

If Manziel makes it past the first half of the round, the question then becomes whether a team from round two would trade up in front of the Browns at No. 26, if the Browns don’t take a quarterback at No. 4.  After the Browns, it then becomes possible if not probable that a team springs into the first round, where a four-year contract and a one-year option would apply.

We’d be shocked if Manziel isn’t taken in the first round.  His actual placement in round one, whatever it may be, won’t be a surprise.

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Reggie Wayne: If you say I’m over the hill, I’ll prove you wrong

Reggie Wayne AP

As Colts receiver Reggie Wayne recovers from last season’s torn ACL, one thing is motivating him to work harder than ever: Knowing that people doubt he can do it.

Wayne told Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star that “naysayers” in the media are pushing him through his rehab.

“It’s you guys,” Wayne said. “You guys motivate me. You guys say that I can’t do it. I’m 35. I’m over the hill. No way I can come back the same. I wasn’t a big newspaper reader, but I’ve become one. Next time I read it maybe you’ll be saying I’ve found the fountain of youth.”

Wayne has previously said that he believes he’ll be ready to go full-speed during offseason workouts, but that Colts coach Chuck Pagano is telling him to take it easy and not to push himself too hard. Whenever Pagano is ready to let Wayne go, however, Wayne sounds ready to show that he still has a lot left in him.

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Colts sign two fullbacks from Super Regional Combine

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Colts have added a pair of fullbacks who took part in last week’s NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit.

The club said Thursday it had signed Stephen Campbell and Cameron White, each of whom was not in the NFL in 2013.

Campbell (6-1, 245) played for West Virginia Wesleyan from 2009 through 2012. He participated in the NFL’s New York/New Jersey Regional Combine on February 15, then was invited to the Super Regional Combine.

White took part in the Chicago Regional Combine on March 15 before moving on to the Super Regional Combine. He is a Hillsdale (Mich.) College product (2009-2012).

Both rookie fullbacks have shown they can catch the ball; White hauled in 94 passes in his collegiate career, while Campbell recorded 65 receptions.

The Colts now have three fullbacks on the roster, with veteran Stanley Havili the club’s other blocking back.

The Colts’ willingness to explore all available outlets for talent has been one of the trademarks of G.M. Ryan Grigson’s tenure.

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Report: League installing real-time fiber optics for replay review

Eagles Cowboys Football AP

One of the key ingredients for a centralized replay function is the latest in real-time fiber optic technology.  The NHL has it.

According to John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, the NFL will soon have it, too.

Per Kryk, the league will have the ability this year in the league office to view the games as they happen, which will allow V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino to better assist the referees as they engage in the formal replay review.

With the technology in place to see things happen as they happen, it could be that the ability of Blandino to guide the referees through the review process in 2014 ultimately becomes Blandino and company actually conducting the replay reviews from New York City.

That’s the way we’d prefer it to be.  The process could be much more efficient if the referee were removed from the process and the review happened quickly at the proverbial situation room.

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Ex-Jag Richard Collier is “on cloud nine” nearly six years after being paralyzed

Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp Getty Images

It’s a slow Friday in the football world, which gives us a bit of time to catch up on some stories that don’t have to do with the draft or the coming season.

Vito Stellino wrote one of them in the Florida Times Union about former Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier. Collier’s NFL career came to an end after just nine games when he was paralyzed after being shot 14 times by a man who has since been sentenced to life in prison.

Collier went on to have part of one leg amputated as a result of the 2008 shooting, but told Stellino that he has forgiven the shooter while forging ahead with a fulfilling life that no longer includes football. Collier speaks against gun violence, runs a foundation called The Spirit Strong, rehabs diligently and plays father to twin sons he had with his wife earlier this month. It’s all part of a life that Collier says “keeps getting better” almost six years after his football career and much more were cruelly taken away from him.

“It was a bad situation, but no one can ever take away my joy. I am still smiling, just enjoying life,” Collier said. “It was hard at first, but I got around to smelling the roses. I take every day and appreciate it. I could have died. Somebody was looking over me. I don’t take it for granted. Life is great. No matter what the situation is, I’m on cloud nine. Everything I want, I have right in front of me.”

Collier remains hopeful that medical advances will help him make even more progress and we share that hope for him and anyone else in a similar position, but remains positive that everything will work out even if they don’t. After reading Stellino’s profile, it’s hard not to share that feeling.

 

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Mark Dominik: Teddy Bridgewater’s problems go beyond Pro Day

Teddy Bridgewater AP

Former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s draft stock has appeared to decline dramatically in recent weeks, as a disappointing Pro Day has led to talk that he’s not the potential No. 1 overall pick that he was proclaimed to be during the 2013 season. But one NFL personnel man says that in reality, Bridgewater’s stock was never that high to begin with.

Mark Dominik, the former Buccaneers general manager who now serves as an analyst for ESPN, said on NFL Live that he doesn’t believe Bridgewater’s Pro Day is a problem so much as his skinny frame, as well as the fact that Bridgewater didn’t always look like an elite passer on tape.

“There were things you saw on tape when you watched him,” Dominik said. “Something that scouts internally, we talked about it in Tampa with Teddy Bridgewater last year. Is he really the premiere quarterback? I like the young man, I think he’s a quality individual, he’s got character and leadership and those things. But this is a quarterback, and you’re judged by what quarterback you draft, and I think Teddy Bridgewater might not have all the pieces you’re looking for.

Dominik indicated that if teams with Top 5 picks like the Texans, Jaguars and Browns are interested in Bridgewater, their interest is in hoping Bridgewater falls all the way out of the first round and is still available early in the second round. That’s a long fall from where most people thought Bridgewater would be drafted.

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Report: Rams to pick up fifth-year option on Robert Quinn

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v St Louis Rams Getty Images

The Rams will reportedly add a fifth year to defensive end Robert Quinn’s contract.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the club will pick up the 2015 option on Quinn, their 2011 first-round pick and one of the NFL’s top pass rushers, by the May 3 deadline.

Quinn, 23, notched 19 sacks in 2013 and garnered Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Professional Football Writers of America.

When the Rams pick up the 2015 option, Quinn will be due a base salary of $6.969 million, according to Albert Breer of NFL Media, who reported the 2015 salary numbers for first-rounders selected with picks Nos. 11-32 on Friday.

Quinn was picked one spot before the Dolphins took center Mike Pouncey 15th overall in 2011. Were the Dolphins to pick up Pouncey’s option, the Pro Bowl center would make $7.438 million in 2015, according to the figures reported by Breer.

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Carr believes there’s a “very good chance” he’ll go in round one

Carr Getty Images

Today’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN includes a visit from former Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.  The younger brother of 2002 first overall pick David Carr, some think Derek could be a first-rounder, too.

Derek believes it could happen, based on everything he has been hearing.

“I would say there’s a very good chance,” Carr said in an interview to be played on Friday’s broadcast.  “Just from what coaches have told me, something I’ve heard from General Managers.  I’d say that the chances of it happening are very good.”

The chances of the full interview being shown during Friday’s show are very good, too.  The chances of Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty joining the program as a guest analysis are even better.

The chances of you answering the poll question posted below will be 100 percent, at the moment you answer it.

The chances of you tuning in at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN are hopefully closer to 100 percent than zero.  The chances of me holding my breath or any other bodily function for it are precisely zero.

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Dolphins thinking about shaking up linebackers

Koa Misi, Joe Philbin AP

The Dolphins spent a lot of money on free agent linebackers last year, and they appear to be set to shuffle some of those guys around.

According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins are planning to move outside linebacker Koa Misi to the middle, replacing Dannell Ellerbe.

Ellerbe would then move to the weakside, and Phillip Wheeler would play the strongside spot.

Misi signed an extension last fall, after former General Manager Jeff Ireland spent on Ellerbe and Wheeler last offseason.

Such a move would be a huge admission that last year’s moves were a mistake, but since Ireland was fired, they’re the kind that are easier to admit.

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Patriots, Browns, Steelers and Jets reportedly showing interest in Andre Williams

Boston College v Maryland Getty Images

Running backs might not be a first round staple anymore, but teams are still going to be selecting the top collegiate runners from 2013 at some point over the three day draft process.

One that should be off the board near the top of the list is Boston College’s Andre Williams. Williams was a Heisman finalist last year after running for 2,177 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns and has drawn good reviews as a pass blocker, but he will need to show he can catch the ball after going the entire 2013 season without catching a pass for B.C.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that four AFC squads are showing particular interest in Williams making that growth as a member of their roster. Wilson names the Patriots, Browns, Steelers and Jets as showing the most interest, although it’s hard to see the Jets spending an early pick on a back after signing Chris Johnson this week.

The same could be said of the Steelers, who signed LeGarrette Blount to create an opening for a back with the Patriots. The Browns signed Ben Tate, but could use Williams or another young runner as a complement to their free agent acquisition.

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Dolphins’ Brandon Gibson has no doubts he’ll be ready Week One

Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline AP

Dolphins receiver Brandon Gibson had his season ended by a torn patellar tendon last year, the kind of knee injury that often prevents a receiver from being ready to return for the start of the following season. But Gibson has no doubts that he’ll be ready to go when the season starts.

Gibson told ESPN he’ll “definitely” be ready for Week One, and he’s already jogging six months after the injury.

“The important thing is to not overstress your patellar tendon; It’s involved in everything you do, really,” Gibson said. “It connects a lot, your knee and your quad. So I basically was on bed rest for a while, a couple months. The only thing I was doing was just rehabbing and little bit of upper-body work. You don’t want to cause too much heavy stress on your knee, but I’m slowly getting into things.”

There’s been some talk that Gibson might not be with the Dolphins when the season starts, but a report from the Miami Herald Gibson will stay in Miami, not least because he would still cost the Dolphins $2 million against the salary cap even if he’s not on the roster. Gibson was off to a good start last season, with 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns in seven games, and from all indications he’ll be a contributor to the receiving corps in Miami this year.

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Report: Ravens, 49ers plan joint practice before preseason game

Jim Harbaugh, , John Harbaugh AP

The Harbaugh brothers are scheduled to face one another in a rematch of Super Bowl XLVII in the exhibition season this summer and it sounds like they’ve figured out a way to spend some time together ahead of the contest without infringing on practice time.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that the Ravens and 49ers are planning to join up for practice and a scrimmage ahead of their August 7 preseason opener. Those practices would give both teams a chance to see their players against outside competition in a controlled setting, something that several teams do to change up their practice schedule in the summer.

It would also make for a more productive trip across the country for the 49ers, who would get to give frontline players a bit more time in a scrimmage than they would normally get if they were just playing a handful of snaps in the first preseason game.

And then there’s the chance to ask “Who’s got it better than us?” to sweeten the deal all the more.

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