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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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NCAA needs to do more to protect college football players

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Willie Taggart of the South Florida Bulls looks on in the first half against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns tackle Joe Thomas wisely wanted to see someone fired for the Oregon offseason workout debacle. It’s not happening, unfortunately.

Instead, the adult responsible for an exercise regimen that put three players in the hospital will be suspended for one month. And that’s that.

The punishment of Irele Oderinde has been announced by the school, and head coach Willie Taggart has said all the right things (even if he didn’t do the right thing) in response to the development.

“As the head football coach, I hold myself responsible for all of our football-related activities and the safety of our students must come first,” Taggart said in a statement that perhaps should have been followed by an explanation of the manner in which he’s being held responsible for the incident. “I have addressed the issue with our strength and conditioning staff, and I fully support the actions taken today by the university.”

It’s easy for Taggart to support the actions taken by the university when the actions weren’t taken against him. But why shouldn’t they be? While it may not be grounds for immediate termination or resignation, Taggart surely hopes to improve the performance of the team. In order to do that in September, the players need to be in great physical shape. He directly benefits from those efforts.

Mentally, the players also need to know that there’s a new sheriff in town, a new way of doing things. A break from the means and methods of the past. And there’s no better way to get their attention than to mimic Kurt-Russell-in-Miracle and go again and again and again and again until they realize they’re working (without pay) for a different boss.

The NCAA needs to intervene, providing real punishment when player health and safety is undermined and providing a reliable mechanism for players to register complaints about practice and workout abuses. The players have no protection; the NCAA needs to provide it.

If the NCAA can’t or won’t, someone else needs to step up and provide assistance and support for college football players who know misconduct is occurring but who have no way to efficiently have their concerns addressed without getting on the wrong side of the head coach.

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Browns, Jaguars, 49ers carrying over most money into 2017 cap

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns looks on prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Browns 29-10. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

When teams don’t spend the maximum amount allowed under the salary cap, NFL rules allow them to carry over unspent money and apply it to the next year’s cap.

The NFLPA announced the amounts of money each team will be carrying over into the 2017 season on Wednesday. The Browns rank at the top of the list.

Cleveland tore down their roster in 2016 and that left them with $50,123,269 in money to bring with them into the 2017 offseason. They also have two first-round picks, including the first overall pick, to use as they continue their long-lasting attempt to build a winning team.

Two other teams that finished near the bottom of the pack are next on the list. The Jaguars, owners of the No. 4 pick in the first round, will have over $39.3 million to add to their cap space while the 49ers, who have the second overall pick, have $38.7 million at their disposal.

The Chargers carry over the least money at just over $113,000 and the Rams, Jets, Vikings and Falcons are the other teams bringing less than $1 million with them into next year’s cap. The NFL told teams that the cap will rise $8-10 million from this year’s $155 million total, although official numbers won’t be set until closer to the start of the next league year.

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Report: Bears to hire Curtis Modkins as running backs coach

ROCHESTER, NY - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL,  Curtis Modkins of the Buffalo Bills poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Rochester, New York.  (Photo by NFL via Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears need a new running backs coach with Stan Drayton taking a job at the University of Texas and they’ve reportedly found their man.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the team is expected to hire Curtis Modkins to fill the position on John Fox’s staff.

Modkins spent the 2016 season as the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, but Chip Kelly’s dismissal after one year as the team’s head coach left him without a role in that organization. Modkins also spent three years as the offensive coordinator in Buffalo when Chan Gailey was the Bills’ head coach. He was also in charge of the running backs in Buffalo and has also spent time as a position coach with the Lions, Cardinals and Chiefs.

Modkins will get a chance to work with Jordan Howard, who finished second in the league in rushing yards as a rookie in 2016. Howard figures to play a prominent role in the offense again next season, although it’s less certain who will be handing the ball off in Chicago.

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Texans won’t hire an offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien to call plays

Bill O'Brien AP

In the coaching shuffle the Texans are going through, it appears one spot is going unfilled.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans aren’t going to hire an offensive coordinator to replace the fired George Godsey, and head coach Bill O’Brien will call the plays next year.

They’re also shifting wide receivers coach Sean Ryan to quarterbacks coach, giving them a different voice for a group of passers who have underwhelmed. They’re sort of stuck with Brock Osweiler for another year, even though O’Brien has held off on ordaining the expensive free agent the starter for 2017.

The Texans have previously shifted defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to an assistant head coach role so they can hang onto Mike Vrabel by making him the coordinator.

But this moves puts a lot more pressure on O’Brien to change what has become a perennial 9-7 team which is held back by mediocre-to-poor quarterback play — more than was already there.

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Ronald Leary prepared to move on from Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13:  Ronald Leary #65 of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ronald Leary wanted to leave the Cowboys before the start of the 2016 season as his run in the starting lineup came to an end with the arrival of La’El Collins in 2015, but the Cowboys held onto him as insurance against an injury.

That proved wise as Collins suffered a toe injury early in the season and Leary stepped in at left guard for an offensive line that didn’t miss a beat with the change in personnel. Leary is set to be a free agent this offseason, and the combination of Collins’ return and the heavy investment the Cowboys have already made on the offensive line leave him pretty sure about how things will play out.

“I thought about it a lot after the game,” Leary said, via ESPN.com. “I kind of stayed on the field a little bit because I’ve been here the last five years of my life. That’s just as long as you’re in college, so I’ve grown close to a lot of players here, a lot of staff. It’s tough to think about, because you don’t know the future when you hit the market like that. It’s tough, but it’s part of the game.”

The Jets signed guard Brian Winters to a four-year deal with $15 million in guaranteed money earlier this week and Leary has started six more games over the last four years. That may be a sign of what Leary can expect on the market and an offer in that neighborhood will likely result in him moving on from Dallas.

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How much credit should Paul Tagliabue get for the Rooney Rule?

3100746-commissioner-paul-tagliabue-at-the-press-gettyimages Getty Images

As the annual Hall of Fame vote approaches, it’s time for plenty of the media members who will or, in my case for example, won’t be casting ballots to begin to push their agendas, either directly or more subtly.

A new item from Alex Marvez of SportingNews.com does little to hide the point of view in its self-explanatory headline: “Paul Tagliabue’s Hall of Fame case much stronger with Rooney Rule getting results.”

The article, the product of a radio interview Marvez and Bill Polian conducted with Tagliabue, contends that the “positive results” from the rule that requires at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for every head-coaching vacancy “will be a cornerstone of Tagliabue’s case for the Hall of Fame.” But are the results really all that positive?

Consider this observation, from December 2016: “I don’t think the Rooney Rule has done as much as anyone hoped it would.”

Who said that? Paul Tagliabue, of course.

All that’s changed since then is the addition of two minority head coaches out of five who have been hired in the current cycle. (Six, assuming the 49ers hire Kyle Shanahan.)

While Tagliabue deserves credit for putting the rule in place, it happened not as an act of altruism but in response to a clear warning from Cyrus Mehri and the late Johnnie Cochran regarding the very real potential for litigation if things didn’t improve. Tagliabue, a lawyer before becoming Commissioner, opted not to hunker down and gird for a fight but to offer a half-measure that would force teams to tap the brakes before ultimately hiring whoever they wanted to hire.

That process has indeed helped minority candidates enter the pipeline of candidates who get attention when owners are figuring out who they want to hire before deciding to fire the guy they currently have (e.g., the current posture of the Colts). Coaches like Mike Tomlin and Vance Joseph may have never gotten serious consideration to become head coaches without the rule mandating their interviews.

Still, it’s not clear how much of that becomes a feather in Tagliabue’s Hall of Fame cap, given that only little more than a month ago Tagliabue expressed concern that the rule hasn’t worked as hoped.

Then there’s the fact that, for the first 13 years of Tagliabue’s tenure, the NFL didn’t have a Rooney Rule and did have a grossly disproportionate underrepresentation of minority coaches. Also, when considered against other issues like the formation on Tagliabue’s watch of the controversial Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which worked actively (and shamefully) to deny and downplay the risks of head trauma, a 2017 uptick in minority coaching hires may not be enough to get Tagliabue the votes he needs.

Ultimately, he needs 80 percent (not 51 percent) of the voters to say yes. Having 33 percent of this year’s coaching class filled by minority hires is only one piece of a much larger puzzle that may or may not result in Tagliabue receiving the highest honor the sport can bestow. There’s a good chance that, regardless of any other considerations, at least one out of every five voters will find Tagliabue’s role in the concussion crisis to be a disqualifying factor.

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Deshaun Watson won’t go to Senior Bowl

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09:  Quarterback Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers reacts after a touchdown by running back Wayne Gallman #9 (not pictured) during the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns coaching staff will be in Mobile, Alabama to work with the South team, something that will give them extended time with prospects headed into the draft this year.

They won’t get to spend any of that extended time with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, however. Watson was invited to participate in the event despite leaving school with eligibility remaining because he graduated in December, but his agent and Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage both confirmed on Wednesday that Watson will not take part in the event.

Watson led Clemson to the national title this year and is generally viewed as one of the top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft along with Mitch Trubisky and DeShone Kizer, neither of whom will be at the Senior Bowl as they are early entrants who have yet to graduate.

Where that places him in the overall draft order isn’t as clear at the moment, which will make Watson’s meetings and/or workouts with individual teams significant as the draft draws closer.

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49ers to have G.M. candidates meet with Kyle Shanahan

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The 49ers coaching search appears to have ended with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as the team’s choice to be their next head coach.

No hiring can be finalized until the Falcons are done playing, something that will happen on Sunday at the earliest. If the Falcons win, the 49ers can still have a second interview with Shanahan next week and it looks like they’ll use that opportunity to have Shanahan speak to some of their General Manager candidates as well to see how everyone gets along.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that Packers director of operations Eliot Wolf will meet with Shanahan and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Packers director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst and Vikings assistant General Manager George Paton will also be in for another round of interviews.

The 49ers have interviewed several other candidates for General Manager. Seahawks exec Trent Kirchner pulled his name from consideration and it’s not known if any of the others will be included in this round of talks.

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Ben Roethlisberger to Julian Edelman: Our Lombardi Trophies show how we’re run

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers walks offsides the field after winning the game against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots receiver Julian Edelman derided the Steelers after Antonio Brown turned Pittsburgh’s postgame locker room into a Facebook Live session, saying, “That’s how that team is run.” Ben Roethlisberger disagreed.

Asked today about Edelman’s comments, Roethlisberger said the Steelers’ six Vince Lombardi Trophies show how their franchise is run.

“I don’t think I need to speak much,” Roethlisberger answered when asked what he’d say to Edelman. “We’ve got our trophies out there. I’ve got owners that I think are the best in the business. They’re family to us, and I’m sure if he talked to his owner, he would say the same thing about the Rooneys. Anybody in here in the football world or the regular world that owns the Rooneys knows what they stand for. It’s a blessing to call them a family.”

Although Brown’s postgame antics were foolish, Roethlisberger is right that in general the Steelers are considered one of the league’s better-run organizations. Which made it all the more surprising that a normally buttoned-up team had such a foolish mistake in the locker room.

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Jon Robinson: Draft currency is a powerful thing

Recently hired Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson, right, and head coach Mike Mularkey, left, answer questions at a news conference, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Mularkey was previously the team's interim head coach and Robinson was the director of player personnel for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) AP

When Jon Robinson was hired as the Titans’ General Manager last year, he had the first overall pick in the draft in his pocket but opted to trade it to the Rams for a bounty of picks in both 2016 and 2017.

Robinson made another trade to move back up in the first round to take Jack Conklin, a move that brought them this season’s choice for the All-Pro first-team at right tackle. He has two first round picks at his disposal this year — No. 5 from the Rams and their own No. 18 — to use for further enhancements to the team.

Robinson obviously isn’t locking himself into staying put and using both picks at this point in the calendar, saying they’ll “evaluate all options” and noting that he’d like to add a second-round pick to the team’s arsenal. Whatever they wind up doing, Robinson knows that the more options you have in the draft the better.

“Draft currency is a powerful thing in this league because it gives you a chance to acquire young talent,'” Robinson said, via the team’s website. “They are less expensive players than guys who have played in the league six, seven or eight, nine or 10 years. So to be able to get two of those guys, or one of those guys if we trade, or three of those guys if we trade. … Whatever it is, draft picks are valuable currency as it relates to team building.”

Robinson notes that the most important thing is to get the picks right whenever you do use them. Conklin, running back Derrick Henry, safety Kevin Byard, cornerback LeShaun Sims and wide receiver Tajae Sharpe all paid dividends as rookies in 2016 and a similar haul should help position the Titans to improve on this year’s 9-7 mark.

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Happy #DeflateGate Day

image Getty Images

Two years ago today, the Colts and Patriots squared off for the AFC’s berth in Super Bowl XLIX. The game would come to be known for much more than that.

The purpose of this post isn’t to relitigate a case that I’ve already declared to be a sham, born of a failure to understand how air pressure works in the cold and a desire to assume the worst about the Patriots and to nail them again. The purpose is to commemorate the fact that it’s been two years exactly since the scandal emerged — and that the Patriots are only two wins away from securing the ultimate revenge.

Yes, Commissioner Roger Goodell once again will avoid Gillette Stadium this weekend. He can’t, however, avoid the Patriots. If they win on Sunday and then win in Houston two Sundays later, Goodell will be handing the Lombardi Trophy to the Patriots.

And while the tradition is for the Commissioner to hand the trophy to the owner of the team, wouldn’t it be something if owner Robert Kraft (who still gets some flak locally for not fighting the league tooth and nail at every turn) declares in the moment that he’s going to defer the honor to Tom Brady? Goodell’s face would instantly turn 50 shades of ginger, and Patriots fans would have an image that would be forever emblazoned on T-shirts, hats, posters, mugs, and body parts.

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Report: Texans making Mike Vrabel DC and keeping Romeo Crennel

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03:  Assistant coach, Mike Vrabel of the Houston Texans during a preseason game on September 3, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel seems to be a rising star in the coaching ranks, but the Texans already a strong defensive coordinator.

They seem to have found a way to keep both sides happy.

According to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com, the Texans are promoting the 41-year-old Vrabel to defensive coordinator, while keeping 69-year-old coordinator Romeo Crennel on staff.

That likely means kicking Crennel upstairs to an assistant head-coach position, which might help head coach Bill O’Brien spend more time on the offense after firing coordinator George Godsey.

Vrabel turned down a chance to be defensive coordinator for the 49ers last offseason, and interviewed for the Rams head coaching job this year. With a rising profile, the Texans probably had to offer him something nice to keep him around.

But Crennel has done such good work for so long that keeping him around is also wise, as the defense is the one thing the Texans can count on over the last three seasons. His contract expired this year, and O’Brien made it clear he wanted Crennel back.

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Vance Joseph: I knew I’d take Denver job over other opportunities

ENGLEWOOD, CO - JANUARY 12:  Vance Josepf addresses the media after being introduced as the Denver Broncos new head coach during  a press conference at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre on January 12, 2017 in Englewood, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Getty Images

New Broncos head coach Vance Joseph was a candidate for four of the six head-coaching vacancies in the NFL this offseason, but the job he got was always his top choice.

Joseph said this morning on PFT Live that after interviewing with the Broncos, he had planned to interview with the Chargers, Rams and 49ers for their head-coaching vacancies. But John Elway offered Joseph the Broncos job, and with that, Joseph ended his search.

“I was close,” Joseph said of potentially leaving Denver to go to another job interview. “I wasn’t offered the job here in Denver so Wednesday morning when I got dressed to go to the airport, John stopped me, brought me back in the office and offered me the job. I was heading to the airport, heading to San Diego and then after that heading to L.A. and San Fran. So I had some things rolling, but I knew that if John offered me the job I would take it, because in my opinion it was the job that was most ready to win now.”

Once Joseph got the job, he immediately went to work on hiring Mike McCoy as his offensive coordinator.

“The first thing I did was call Mike McCoy, that was the first thing I did,” Joseph said. “I called Mike McCoy because I knew that as a first-time head coach and defensive guy, my offensive coordinator was going to be a big hire. And I wanted Mike. I didn’t want to lose Mike.”

So Joseph got the job he wanted, got the top assistant he wanted, and now gets to work in a place where he thinks he can win and win big right away.

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Panthers kick the tires on quarterback Aaron Murray

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 01:  Quarterback Aaron Murray #7 of the Kansas City Chiefs is sacked by Kyler Fackrell #51 of the Green Bay Packers during the preseason game at Arrowhead Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Quarterback Aaron Murray was on three teams during an 11-day stretch of September, and is continuing his efforts to turn up with as many teams as possible.

Via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, the former fifth-round pick from Georgia is working out for the Panthers today.

They don’t particularly need anything other than a fourth arm for the offseason, as Cam Newton, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb are all under contract. But quarterbacks are a scarce commodity thus tend to get plenty of chances to prove whether they can or cannot play.

Murray spent most of last year on the Eagles’ practice squad, but was the only one of their practice squaders who didn’t sign a future contract with them.

He started last season with the Chiefs, was offered in trade and no one bit. So he signed with the Cardinals practice squad and lasted eight days there before he was released, when the Eagles offered a soft place to land.

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Julian Edelman on Antonio Brown incident: “That’s how that team is run”

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots reacts in the second half against the Houston Texans during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

In the aftermath of Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live misadventures, most of the attention has centered on why Brown would do it and what the Steelers plan to do about something that conflicts so sharply with the behaviors from other teams, including the typically buttoned-up New England Patriots.

While addressing the situation earlier this week, one Patriots player was perhaps not as buttoned up as his own coach would want him to be.

“Hey, people have different rules,” receiver Julian Edelman said on WEEI in Boston. “That’s how that team is run. I personally don’t think that would be something that would happen in our locker room. But, hey, whatever. Some people like red and some people like blue. Some people like tulips and some people like roses, whatever.”

The full context of Edelman’s quote takes some of the sting out of the “that’s how that team is run” line. But the overriding message is clear: Players on some teams would do something like this, and players on other teams would not.

Patriots players wouldn’t. Because Patriots players know, either instinctively or through hearing it repeatedly from coaches and teammates, that the consequences would be swift and severe. Bolstering that message are examples that arise when, for example, a guy shows up late for work in a blizzard. And promptly is sent home.

In plenty of other cities, things are much looser. And through that looseness comes the opportunity for a guy to decide, due to exuberance or otherwise, to do something really, really stupid. The challenge for every coach is to be smart enough to spot the guys who would do something really, really stupid and come up with a way to keep that from happening.

In New England’s case, the fact that Edelman actually said something neither boring nor robotic about the Pittsburgh situation probably is enough to get him in trouble with Bill Belichick. Which proves the broader point that none of the Patriots players would do what Antonio Brown did.

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