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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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Justin Tuck: Giants need someone who will “light a fire under people”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Justin Tuck #91 of the New York Giants reacts after he recorded a sack against the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Giants won 21-17.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Giants make a push for their first postseason appearance since winning Super Bowl XLVI, a key member of a pair of championship teams in New York believes the Giants are lacking one key ingredient to winning their third NFL title in a decade.

“Just from being in that locker room before, I think one thing they’re truly missing is that guy or those guys that can light a fire under people,” Tuck told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. “They’re talented. I know the players on that roster. It’s a super-talented group of guys. I don’t know, maybe they need a wake-up call? I don’t know if that’s the right word. It’s something off where I don’t feel like this team is headed in the right direction for this season.

“Normally when Giants teams are in contention, they tend to get better and more together as the season goes on,” Tuck explained. “Maybe a couple losses wouldn’t be a bad thing for them. I’m speculating. I don’t know this. I’m going from the perspective of being an outsider, but everybody gets all caught up with going into the playoffs with a hot record or high seed. I never wanted to be the top seed. I wanted to be the guy that was overlooked and playing hot at the time.”

Both times the Giants won the Super Bowl with Tuck on the team they were overlooked, running the table as the No. 5 seed in 2007 and the No. 4 seed four years later. In 2008, as the No. 1 team in the NFC, they had a one-and-done playoff experience, losing at home to the Eagles, 23-11.

It’s hard not to regard Tuck’s words as a shot at quarterback Eli Manning, a guy who never has been wired to be demonstrative or demanding like his older brother, Peyton.

“I hate to use the word ‘leader,’ because there are guys that lead in certain aspects on that football team, but every team [I was on] could point to a guy or couple guys . . .  and I don’t know if I see that right now,” Tuck said.

Tuck seems to hope that he’ll provide the spark, from outside the building.

“If I have to be the bad guy, so be it,” he said.

Currently, the Giants are on track to once again be forced to try to get to the Super Bowl the hard way. Even if they finish the sweep of the Cowboys on Sunday night, they’ll need to make up two games with three to play. Which means that they’ll be hitting the road in the wild-card round, heading to a place like, say, Tampa.

Of course, Tampa is where the 2007 Super Bowl run began, followed by trips to Dallas and then to Green Bay. It could play out that same way for the Giants in 2016 — possibly culminating in a third Super Bowl rendezvous with the Patriots.

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Dolphins Laremy Tunsil “hurting bad” with shoulder injury

FILE -  In this Friday, Aug. 19, 2016 file photo, Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil takes instructions on the sideline in the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. With three starters hurt, the Miami Dolphins will likely have a patchwork offensive line when they try for their sixth consecutive win Sunday against the 49ers. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File) AP

Miami Dolphins rookie guard Laremy Tunsil is trying to stay on the field despite significant pain from a shoulder injury.

I mean, I’m hurting,” Tunsil said Thursday,via Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post. “I’m hurting bad, but you know I’m going to fight through it. I’m going to give it all I’ve got.

The injury forced Tunsil to miss the Dolphins game against the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago. He returned to play on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and managed to play all 62 offensive snaps despite the injury.

“At the end of the day, I’m here to help the team any way I can,” Tunsil said. “We’re trying to win games. We’re trying to get to the playoff spot, so whatever I can do, I’m going to help.”

Tunsil has started 10 games for Miami this season.

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Derrick Johnson suffers ruptured Achilles tendon

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 08:  Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson #56 of the Kansas City Chiefs is helped off the field after an injury during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chiefs Coach Andy Reid told reporters after Thursday night’s 21-13 win over the Raiders that Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and is done for the season.

It’s a sad deal,” Reid said.

Johnson, 34, has played his entire career with the Chiefs and will be missed on and off the field. A first-round pick in 2005, Johnson was named to the Pro Bowl last season for the fourth time and had started every game this season and last season.

Johnson suffered the injury in the second quarter of Thursday night’s game. He seemed to know immediately that something was wrong, tossing his helmet as he awaited attention from the team’s medical staff.

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Thursday Night Football recap: Chiefs get big plays from Hill, hang on late

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 8: Wide receiver Tyreek Hill #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs breaks beyond the Oakland Raiders last line of defense en route to a punt return touchdown at Arrowhead Stadium during the second quarter of the game on December 8, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) Getty Images

Two touchdowns by dynamic rookie Tyreek Hill and a dominant defensive effort helped the Chiefs score a 21-13 win over the Raiders Thursday night.

Both teams are now 10-3, and since the Chiefs have swept the season series they have the inside track towards winning the AFC West and also a first-round playoff bye.

The Chiefs never allowed Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to get comfortable in cold conditions, and the Raiders mounted just two significant drives all night. They scored on the first one, late in the first half, but turned the ball over on downs with two minutes left in the game and didn’t get it back.

The Raiders got just three points out of two Chiefs turnovers early in the second half, and that was the story of the night. The Chiefs made the few big plays in the game — on both sides of the ball — while the Raiders kept coming up a play or a step short.

The Chiefs scored all their points in a span of 8:26 in the second quarter. Hill got the game’s first touchdown on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith early in the second quarter, then returned a punt 78 yards that made it 21-3.

Carr was 17-of-41 passing for 117 yards, and the Chiefs’ defense kept answering the call. The Raiders were 5-of-18 in trying to convert third downs, 1-of-3 on fourth down and finished with 244 total yards on 73 offensive plays.

The Raiders had a six-game win streak snapped and fell from No. 1 to No. 5 in the AFC projected playoff standings. The Chiefs won despite turning the ball over three times because of Hill’s big plays and their defense.

The Raiders got 15 yards or fewer on four of their six possessions in the second half. They got their only second-half points after moving only four yards early in the third quarter after a T.J. Carrie interception.

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith threw for 202 yards in the first half and finished with 264. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had his fourth straight game over 100 receiving yards, and backup running back Charcandrick West ran for the Chiefs’ other touchdown.

The Raiders played without guard Kelechi Osemele, a late scratch due to illness, and outside of Latavius Murray running 22 times for 103 yards they never established much of anything offensively. With a little over nine minutes left Carr threw the ball deep on third down, and Amari Cooper was wide open. It wasn’t clear if Cooper lost the ball in the lights or just didn’t catch it after getting behind the defense.

It was that kind of night for the Raiders, and Hill’s big plays left them chasing, unsuccessfully, for the game’s last three quarters.

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Raiders’ defense holding up its end of the deal

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 8: Wide receiver Amari Cooper #89 of the Oakland Raiders is tackled on a reception attempt by strong safety Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium during the first quarter of the game on December 8, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders started the third quarter by forcing two turnovers, and they feel they should be closer than they are.

Two turnovers only led to three points, and the Chiefs lead midway through the third quarter, 21-13. Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 33-yard field goal after a T.J. Carrie interception to start the second half.

Raiders All-World linebacker Khalil Mack had a strip-sack of Alex Smith on the next possession, but the Raiders couldn’t generate any offense off of it. On the second field goal try it appeared there was a bad snap. By the time Raiders punter Marquette King gathered it, he was forced to try to run and he ended up going nowhere.

The Chiefs led, 21-3, midway through the second quarter. The Raiders closed it to 21-10 late in the second quarter on a Latavius Murray touchdown run.

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More big plays from Tyreek Hill spark Chiefs to lead

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 8: Wide receiver Tyreek Hill #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs catches a pass on his way to a touchdown in front of cornerback David Amerson #29 of the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium during the second quarter of the game on December 8, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders showed some life late in the first half, and it’s a good thing they did. Thursday night’s game was on the verge of getting really ugly.

The Chiefs dominated for much of the first half, and at halftime they hold a 21-10 lead. The Raiders trimmed the lead on a Latavius Murray touchdown run with 14 seconds left in the half.

A 36-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Tyreek Hill early in the second quarter gave the Chiefs a 7-3 lead. After a quick stop the Chiefs drove again with big passes to Travis Kelce and Chris Conley to set up a Charcandrick West touchdown run and make it 14-3.

Hill had a 78-yard punt return to make it 21-3. It was the ninth touchdown the speedy rookie has posted this season.

Smith was over 200 yards passing a little over 20 minutes into the game. Midway through the second quarter the Raiders had 35 yards of offense, and three Chiefs receivers had more than 35 receiving yards.

At halftime, Smith has 202 passing yards vs. just 77 for his counterpart, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Hill has three catches for 53 yards in addition to his punt return.

Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson left in the second quarter with what the team announced as an Achilles injury. He won’t return.

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Chiefs dominating, hold 14-3 lead

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 27:  Wide receiver Tyreek Hill #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the third quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on November 27, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

A 36-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Tyreek Hill early in the second quarter gave the Chiefs a 7-3 lead on the Raiders. After a quick stop the Chiefs drove again with big passes to Travis Kelce and Chris Conley to set up a Charcandrick West touchdown run and make it 14-3.

Smith is over 200 yards passing a little over 20 minutes into the game.

Hill’s touchdown capped a five-play, 70-yard touchdown drive for the Chiefs, who are dominating the yardage and time of possession. Hill has eight total touchdowns this season.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is off to a 3-of-9 start for 10 yards.

The 10-2 Raiders have won six straight. Dating back to last season, the 9-3 Chiefs have won eight straight AFC West games.

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Raiders get early turnover, big defensive stand

Khalil Mack, Sio Moore AP

It’s cold in Kansas City, and Thursday night’s Chiefs-Raiders game is off to a strange start.

After a puzzling challenge by the Chiefs and then an automatic turnover review two plays later, the Raiders kept the ball — the original call was a catch and fumble by Amari Cooper — and then got a 44-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski to take 3-0 lead.

The Chiefs came right back, getting a 39-yard pass to Chris Conley to move into Raiders’ territory, but then turned the ball over on downs following two rather lame and predictable runs right into the middle on third and fourth downs.

The Raiders went three and out to open the game, but Chiefs rookie Tyreek Hill fumbled the ensuing punt and Raiders backup linebacker James Cowser recovered at the Chiefs’ 38-yard line.

Janikowski has not missed from under 45 yards this season.

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Kelechi Osemele won’t play due to illness

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 16:  Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele #70 of the Oakland Raiders blocks against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second quarter on October 16, 2016 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Chiefs won 26-10.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele will not play Thursday night at Kansas City due to an illness.

Osemele, who’s in his first year with the Raiders after signing as a free agent last March, has been a key player for one of the league’s best offensive lines. He had been listed on the injury report as questionable due to a knee injury, not an illnes.

Osemele has not missed a game this season. Jon Feliciano, a second-year player, is listed as the No. 2 left guard on the Raiders’ unofficial depth chart, but the team is listing Vadal Alexander as the unofficial starter in his place.

The Raiders had previously ruled safety Karl Joseph, outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun and defensive tackle Stacy McGee as out due to injuries.

The Chiefs are healthy and have no injury-related inactives. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin returns, as expected, from a three-game absence.

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Jordan Reed thinks he can deal with the pain, play Sunday

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 10: Tight end Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins reacts to a play against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at FedExField on January 10, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Redskins tight end Jordan Reed was again a limited practice participant Thursday, and after practice Reed told reporters he’s “optimistic” about his chances of playing Sunday at Philadelphia.

Reed suffered an AC joint separation in his left shoulder at Dallas on Thanksgiving. Though he returned and finished the game, he didn’t play last week.

Reed, who shares the team lead with 59 receptions, told reporters he’s feeling better and hopes he’ll get the go-ahead to play Sunday as the Redskins need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

It’s painful but something I can deal with,” Reed said.

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Rams have no comment on report of dysfunction

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 11:  Head coach Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams stands on the sidelines during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 11, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Thursday began with a bit of a bombshell from Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com regarding the extent of the dysfunction in the Rams organization. Recent comments from coach Jeff Fisher deemed critical of the team’s personnel function became the catalyst for anonymous quotes from an unnamed Rams source criticizing Fisher for an apparent effort to shift blame.

The Rams have no comment regarding the report, pointing out that Fisher likely would address the situation at his next press conference. It’s scheduled for Friday at approximately 3:30 p.m. ET.

Fisher, who faced repeated questions last week regarding Eric Dickerson’s relentless effort to get Fisher fired, surely will be pressed for his reaction to the news that someone in the organization criticized him without attaching a name to it.

“It pissed me off because I knew it was meant as a shot,” the unnamed Rams source told Breer regarding Fisher’s apparent attempt to shirk blame for the quality of the roster. “You see it under that umbrella — ‘We need to do a better job in personnel.’ OK, but you want everyone to think that you have full control. You can’t have it both ways, and it can’t always be the talent. Look at the roster, 2012 to now. In ’12, Jeff did a masterful job with what he was given. But we’ve gotten more talent, and we’ve gotten worse.”

There can be little doubt that Fisher wanted, and acquired, full control in 2012. After Fisher picked the Rams over the Dolphins, he told Michael Silver (then of Yahoo! Sports) that Fisher wanted to be able to run the show.

“At the end of the day I wanted the ability to have final say, with a General Manager I could build something with,” Fisher said.

So, basically, all roads lead back to Fisher, both as to coaching and as to personnel. If there’s a problem with coaching, it’s ultimately on him. If there’s a problem with personnel, it’s ultimately on him.

On Friday, it’ll be interesting to see how questions from reporters about these realities ultimately are answered.

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Cam Newton: I’m not above the law

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game on November 27, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cam Newton doesn’t mind taking the criticism, he’s used to that.

But what the Panthers quarterback couldn’t handle were reports that his benching in Seattle Sunday night was related to something more nefarious than not wearing a tie on the team’s flight from San Jose to Seattle.

I violated the wardrobe [policy] and that’s it,” Newton said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “You don’t have to dig into certain stories that [I] violated curfew, was out at a club, somebody was caught in the room.”

For his part, Newton has owned the fact he broke Ron Rivera’s ties-on-a-plane policy, and hasn’t rebelled against his coach’s punishment. Rivera has said throughout that he was simply being consistent in his enforcement of his dress code, whether it was the reigning MVP or a special teamer.

And Newton seems to understand that.

“That’s just a warning for everybody,” Newton said. “And at no point in time or even still do I think I’m above the law. I never thought that. I’m not that type of player. A lot of people might think that from the outside looking in. It doesn’t bother me because they don’t know me.

“For anybody’s who’s ever known me or was on my team, they would know this situation could have been prevented because of my decision.”

With a little luck, that should put a bow on TieGate for the Panthers, who have knot quite reached their goals this season.

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Report: Patriots signing Griff Whalen

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 13:  Griff Whalen #83 reacts with  Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers after Gates' touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of a game  at Qualcomm Stadium on November 13, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola is out with a high-ankle sprain and the hope is that he’ll be well enough to rejoin the team for the postseason, but his absence at present may have spurred a roster move on Thursday.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the team is signing wide receiver Griff Whalen after he worked out for the team. According to a report from ESPN, former Packers wideout Jared Abbrederis also worked out.

Whalen caught two passes in eight appearances for the Chargers earlier this season. He spent the previous three years with the Colts and caught 45 passes, although Patriots fans may remember him best for his role on the snapper on the Colts’ ill-fated swinging gate fake punt from last season.

Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan are the healthy Patriots wideouts at the moment with both Edelman and Hogan absent from the injury report this week after making frequent appearances over the course of the season.

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Brandon Marshall: Pain pills mask my memory of 3-TD game

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Wide receiver Brandon Marshall #15 of the Chicago Bears celebrates after a touchdown during the third quarter of their game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on September 14, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

In 2014, Brandon Marshall had a three-touchdown game against the 49ers. As Marshall and the Jets prepare to play the 49ers on Sunday, he was asked what he remembers about that game. The answer? Not much.

That’s because, Marshall says, he was using so many painkillers to play through an ankle injury that he was in a fog mentally, even as he was able to perform well physically.

“I don’t really remember much about that game because I worked really hard to get back from a high ankle — well, I don’t want to go there. Um, well, I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills. I took a couple pain pills that masked the pain. I really wasn’t supposed to play. I came back from a high ankle within 10 days. I was supposed to be out four to six weeks. I don’t really remember much about that game. I just remember catching those balls and that was pretty much it,” Marshall said.

With the NFL facing a lawsuit related to painkillers, that’s the type of story that the league would prefer not to hear. It’s also the kind of story that raises questions about why the league is so adamant that players not use marijuana, when many players view it as a safer way to manage pain than the painkillers that team doctors prescribe.

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Eric Berry moves toward another payday

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 04:  Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs walks off the field after their 29-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on December 4, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Berry returned an interception from a failed two-point conversion for two points and the go-ahead score.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Eric Berry’s big year is laying the foundation for another big payday.

The Chiefs safety, to whom the team applied the franchise tag after his prior contract expired, didn’t sign a long-term deal before July 15. It means that the Chiefs soon will have to decide whether to apply the tag to Berry again, or to sign Berry to a long-term deal.

The tag won’t be cheap. At $10.806 million for 2016, Berry will be owed a 20-percent raise under the tag for 2017. That’s $12.96 million for one season at the safety position, nearly $500,000 more per year than safety Tyrann Mathieu is getting under his top-of-the-market deal.

It becomes even harder to negotiate a long-term deal, since Berry can force his way to the market in 2018, unless the Chiefs plan to give him the quarterback version of the franchise tag to keep him in place for another year.

Berry, who turns 28 later this month, showed on Sunday how important he is to the Chiefs defense. Apart from his contributions on the field, his leadership and personal story of overcoming serious adversity make him even more valuable.

The challenge becomes attaching the right value to his contract, and ultimately finding a way to bridge the gap between what he wants and what the Chiefs will pay.

Here’s the simple reality: If the Chiefs won’t pay him what he wants, someone else possibly will. Like, for example, the team in his home state of Georgia that Berry singlehandedly defeated with a pick six and a game-winning pick two.

Berry gets another chance to demonstrate his value to the Chiefs tonight, in a prime-time matchup with the Raiders. Which only happens to have the AFC West crown essentially hanging in the balance.

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