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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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Greg Roman “pretty darned pleased” with Marcus Lattimore

San Francisco 49ers Rookie Minicamp Getty Images

Marcus Lattimore returned to practice for the San Francisco 49ers on Wednesday for the first time this season.

The second-year running back from South Carolina has yet to play in an NFL game after being drafted by the 49ers in 2013. Lattimore suffered a devastating knee injury in college and has yet to be healthy enough to play in a game. He began the season on the non-football injury list for San Francisco and the team now has 21 days to evaluate Lattimore before making a decision to put him on the active roster or face another wasted season on injured reserve.

However, early impressions from offensive coordinator Greg Roman seem to indicate Lattimore has a chance to get on the field this season.

It was good, very good … great to see him out there,” Roman said via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “He worked with [running backs] Coach [Tom] Rathman after practice extra and got with some of the defensive players and got some contact work, which was really good. And I know they looked at that this morning in a pretty early meeting.

“He’s got his window and there’s a good plan in place to kind of progress him through that window and see where he’s at. Was pretty darned pleased.”

The 49ers only have two running backs on their active roster right now in Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. Lattimore, if healthy, could bring some additional depth to a position that hasn’t been as successful for San Francisco as they’ve shown in past seasons.

 

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Seahawks hurting at center as Stephen Schilling misses practice Thursday

Max Unger, J.R. Sweezy AP

The Seattle Seahawks could be short-handed at center this week for their game against the Oakland Raiders.

Stephen Schilling has started the last three games at center in relief of an injured Max Unger. However, Schilling did not practice on Thursday due to a knee injury.

Unger has missed the last three games for Seattle after suffering a sprained foot against Washington earlier this month. While Unger has been limited in practice the last two days, his availability for Sunday’s game  also remains in doubt.

With Schilling sitting and Unger limited, Patrick Lewis picked up the additional workload for Seattle on Thursday. However, Lewis has only appeared in one game in his career, which was in brief relief of Schilling in St. Louis two weeks ago.

It remains to be seen whether Schilling’s knee injury is anything of concern or more just a day off to manage soreness. If it is an issue, it could lead to Unger having to suit up even if he’s not at 100 percent or Lewis getting the first extended playing opportunity of his career.

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Saints pick up first road victory of year 28-10 over Panthers

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

After a sloppy first half that featured multiple turnovers by both teams, the New Orleans Saints kicked the offense into gear and cruised to a 28-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers for their first road win of the season.

Mark Ingram rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns and Drew Brees added two touchdowns of his own – one passing and one rushing – to lead the Saints into the lead into the NFC south. Ingram is the first New Orleans running back to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games since Deuce McAllister in 2006.

The Saints had lost their first four games away from the Superdome this season and won all three games played at home prior to Thursday night. Now the Saints get four of their five games at home and appear primed to take control of the division after a slow start to the season.

Brees was intercepted by Dwan Edwards on the Saints opening possession and fumbled away the ball on their second drive of the game. However, the Panthers Offense could not capitalize on the turnovers. After a Cam Newton fumble, New Orleans responded with touchdowns on four of five possessions to put the game out of reach.

Newton was sacked and fumbled to give the Saints the ball at the Panthers 5-yard line. Ingram punched in the ball from three yards out to give the Saints the lead.

The Saints followed with a lightning quick 10-play, 85-yard drive before halftime that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham to take a 14-0 lead into the locker room.

Newton scrambled for a 10-yard touchdown run cap a 10-play, 81-yard drive for the Panthers first points of the night.

Newton dumped a pass to DeAngelo Williams that Wiliams turned into a 30-yard gain to open the drive. After a potential touchdown pass was dropped by Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone, Newton pirouetted away from pressure and escaped the pocket to his left. Newton dived for the goal line and managed to get the ball to cross over the line for the touchdown.

Newton had a poor night passing. He completed just 10 of 28 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown/

New Orleans answered right back with Brees quickly sneaking the ball over the goal line to extend the Saints lead to 21-7. After a Graham Gano field goal for Carolina, Ingram added his second 3-yard scoring effort of the night to put the game away.

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Rams sign QB Case Keenum to practice squad

Case Keenum AP

The Rams have brought back Case Keenum.

St. Louis signed Keenum, the ex-Texans quarterback, to its practice squad on Thursday, according to the NFL’s transaction log.

The Rams waived Keenum on Tuesday. When he cleared waivers Wednesday, he was eligible to be added to the practice squad.

The 26-year-old Keenum started eight games for Houston in 2013. However, the Texans overhauled their QB depth chart entering this season, and Keenum lost his spot. The Rams claimed him on waivers from the Texans on Sept. 1.

The Rams are one of 19 teams carrying just two quarterbacks on the active roster. However, 14 of those clubs, including St. Louis, have at least one practice squad passer as insurance.

Overall, there are 78 quarterbacks on 53-player rosters, with 16 passers on practice squads, which were expanded to 10 players this season.

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Dick LeBeau gives Cortez Allen a vote of confidence

Andre Johnson, Cortez Allen AP

It was a tough first half of the regular season for Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen.

While Allen did sign a contract extension before the start of the campaign, he’s had a rough go of it on the field. Though he’s still listed as the Steelers’ starter at left cornerback, he didn’t get the start in the Week Eight win vs. Indianapolis. And through eight games, no qualifying cornerback has a lower grade from Pro Football Focus than the 26-year-old Allen.

On Thursday, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was asked about Allen’s confidence.

“Well, having been an old corner myself, a corner learns to live alone, and he’s got to believe in himself, just go out there and play, work on everything he’s doing,” said LeBeau, a Hall of Fame cornerback. “You got to believe in yourself to play corner, and I think Cortez does.

“I have a lot of confidence in him. He just got to produce and get out there and make some plays.”

LeBeau’s remarks on Allen start around the 1:15 mark of this clip. They are worth a listen, if only to hear LeBeau describe the solitary life of a cornerback.

When the 77-year-old LeBeau gives up coaching, here’s to hoping he writes a book. He certainly has an ear for dialogue. But in the meantime, there are players to be helped. And as Allen tries to regain his best form, he’s got a defensive coordinator with 14 NFL seasons as a player to his credit in his corner.

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Cam Newton touchdown run gets Panthers on the board

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

After watching the New Orleans Saints march 85 yards for a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead in the half, the Carolina Panthers needed to get their offense jump started after the break.

Cam Newton answered the call.

Newton scrambled for a 10-yard touchdown run cap a 10-play, 81-yard drive for the Panthers first points of the night.

Newton dumped a pass to DeAngelo Williams that Wiliams turned into a 30-yard gain to open the drive, The Panthers faced two third downs on the drive and Newton used his legs to convert both opportunities. Newton ran for nine yards on 3rd and 1 from the Saints 31-yard line to keep the chains moving.

After a potential touchdown pass was dropped by Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone, Newton pirouetted away from pressure and escaped the pocket to his left. Newton dived for the goal line and managed to get the ball to cross over the line for the touchdown.

Newton has not been great from a passing standpoint – he’s completed just six of 19 passes for 77 yards and an interception – but he managed to get the Panthers in the end zone on what could ultimately be a critical drive to keep Carolina within reach of the Saints.

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Saints take 14-0 lead into halftime

saintspanthers AP

It’s fitting that tonight’s Saints-Panthers game is for first place in the worst division in the NFL, because this game has been mostly a stinker.

But the Saints came alive late in the second quarter and took a 14-0 lead into halftime.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton each have two turnovers, with an interception apiece and a lost fumble apiece. But the difference has been that the Saints have been able to capitalize on the Panthers’ mistakes: Newton’s fumble deep in Saints territory turned into the first New Orleans score, and just before halftime the Saints benefited from a pass interference penalty in the end zone to set up a one-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Jimmy Graham.

Now the Panthers will need to play a lot better in the second half, or else the Saints are going to make a strong statement that they’re the best team in the NFC South. Not that that’s saying much.

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Judge denies Hernandez change of venue request

Hernandez AP

Plagiarism apparently isn’t grounds for moving the location of a murder trial.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Susan Garsh has rejected a request by former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez to move the Odin Lloyd murder case out of Bristol County, Massachusetts.

Specifically, Judge Garsh ruled that Hernandez’s lawyers had not shown that local prejudgment of the case would make it impossible to pick an impartial jury.

Lawyer Michael Fee had argued that “sensational and inflammatory” media coverage “has poisoned the jury pool in Bristol County.”  Of course, the media coverage — sensational or inflammatory or otherwise — has extended far beyond the borders of Bristol County.  It will be a challenge anywhere in the state to find 12 jurors who haven’t formed an opinion about the case based on the media coverage.

The trial currently is set for January 2015.  Hernandez also faces trial on two separate murder charges from July 2012, eleventh months before Lloyd was shot in an area not far from Hernandez’s home.

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Emmitt Smith stresses ball security

emmitt-smith Getty Images

On Thursday, Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith made the media rounds on behalf of Keurig, the company that makes the one-cup-at-time coffee machines.  The former Cowboy had some pointed advice to the player who is jeopardizing a special season, one fumble at a time.

DeMarco Murray has blamed his five lost fumbles on bad luck and on trying to get every last yard while running the ball.  Emmitt, while supportive of his successor, said something Murray needs to heed.

“Ball security is the most important thing and I learned this at a very young age,” Smith said on Thursday’s PFT Live.  “The football is the most important thing on the football field.  No matter if you get a hundred yards, no matter if you lead the league in rushing, if you turn the football over and you’re costing your team games or opportunities to win games, then it becomes a problem.

“I only want to bring it up because his performance has been stellar this entire season thus far, but you cannot help but bring it up when you’re laying the ball down, turning the ball over, and you’re taking away opportunities to either score points, whether it’s through field goals or touchdowns, or you’re taking away opportunities for your team to maintain control of the football, it’s tough to ignore.”

When it comes to fighting for that extra yard, Smith says it’s wiser to understand when to call it a play, and to move on to the next one.

“Knowing when the journey is over is one of the things I had to learn myself as a young running back and I had great coaches to try to emphasize those things when I started to have fumbling issues,” Smith said.

Murray will need even better coaching, because now he’ll be even more of a target.

“In the National Football League, once you starting laying it down on the ground, every team from this point forward is coming to tackle the football, not necessarily tackle you, so therefore you must have some ball security,” Smith said.  “Ball security must be an important thing in a running back’s mind.”

For more from Emmitt, well, you know what to do by now, don’t you?

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Brees has two early turnovers in Carolina

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

After playing a nearly flawless game on Sunday night, Drew Brees is off to a rough start on Thursday night.

Brees had two turnovers in just over 10 minutes to start the game, although both were flukes as much as they were anything Brees did wrong.

On the first, the Saints had marched deep into Panthers territory only to have Brees throw a pass that was deflected, took a high bounce into the air and ended up in the hands of Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. The second turnover happened when Saints fullback Erik Lorig got pushed backward in pass protection and knocked the ball out of Brees’s hand.

The Saints have moved the ball well, gaining 67 yards before the interception on their first drive and 43 yards before the fumble on their second drive. Now the Saints need to hold onto the ball.

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Jonathan Goodwin, Thomas DeCoud among inactives for Thursday night

Thomas DeCoud AP

Two Saints who were questionable for Thursday night’s game at Carolina are among the team’s inactives.

However, tight end Jimmy Graham is not among them.

Graham (shoulder) is on the Saints’ active roster, as is inside linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle), who was questionable with an ankle ailment.

However, while Graham and Knox will play, the Saints (3-4) will be without center Jonathan Goodwin (knee/ankle) and reserve tailback Khiry Robinson (forearm), who were each questionable for Thursday night.

Tim Lelito is the top backup to Goodwin on the Saints’ depth chart.

The Panthers (3-4-1) also are also down a starter who was questionable, as safety Thomas DeCoud (hamstring) is inactive. According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Tre Boston will get the call in his place.

The Panthers’ other inactives had previously been ruled out with injuries: left tackle Byron Bell (knee), cornerback Bene Benwikere (ankle), wideout Philly Brown (concussion), left guard Amini Silatolu (calf), right guard Trai Turner (knee) and tailback Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

The Saints’ other inactives are inside linebacker David Hawthorne (hand), cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, fullback Austin Johnson (knee), tailback Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder) and wide receiver Nick Toon. Hawthorne, Johnson and Thomas had already been declared out for tonight’s game in Charlotte.

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Greg Hardy’s trial is continued until after season

Hardy Getty Images

As the Panthers continue to play without defensive end Greg Hardy, they may be playing without him even longer than they had thought.

Per a league source, Hardy’s jury trial on domestic violence charges has been postponed.  It had been set for November 17.

A judge previously found Hardy guilty via a preliminary trial so informal that the court doesn’t even create a transcript of the proceedings.  Hardy has agreed to, as a practical matter, a suspension with pay pending the resolution of his case.  He’s continuing to receive weekly installments of his $13.1 million franchise-tag salary.

According to the source, Hardy resisted the postponement.  He wants to get the case behind him, so that he can return to football.  Due to be a free agent after the season, Hardy will have a hard time making the case for a big contract on the open market if he hasn’t played since September.

The delay necessarily puts pressure on Hardy to strike a plea deal.  But without a clear idea of the punishment the NFL would impose under the personal conduct policy, a plea bargain carries with it a high degree of uncertainty in the Court of Goodell.

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Jake Locker says he won’t pout about being benched

Jake Locker AP

Titans quarterback Jake Locker isn’t happy about getting benched. But he’s going to try to keep his chin up.

It’s frustrating. It’s not the way you draw it up obviously,” Locker said, via 24/7 Sports. “But I don’t think you can dwell on it either. It doesn’t do anybody any good to pout about it, so I’m just gonna go forward as is now and do my part to be a productive member of this football team.”

Locker said he’ll do his best to help the man who has taken his job, rookie Zach Mettenberger.

“You want to be on the field and you want to play, but I understand that’s my role as a part of this team now. Zach was that teammate to me and I plan to do the same thing for him, help him to be as prepared as possible, as ready as possible every Sunday when he steps on the field,” Locker said.

That’s all Locker can do now. That, and wait until March, when he’ll be a free agent and can put his disappointing tenure in Tennessee behind him.

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Ronnie Hillman limited again on Thursday with shoulder injury

Hillman Getty Images

Ronnie Hillman has 283 yards rushing in Denver’s last three games.  Whether he gets a chance to build on that remains in doubt, to some degree.

Via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, Hillman was limited again in practice with a shoulder injury that he suffered on Wednesday.  Hillman has said that he’ll play on Sunday in New England.

If Hillman can’t carry the load on Sunday, that likely will mean more opportunities for rookie Juwan ThompsonMontee Ball remains out of practice with a groin injury.

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Eli Manning: You can’t just throw it deep and think it’s a solution

Eli Manning AP

Giants General Manager Jerry Reese said this week that the team needs to be more aggressive on offense than they’ve been while compiling a 3-4 record.

Reese’s comments come at a time when Eli Manning is completing 64.9 percent of his passes and on a pace to throw 11 interceptions, which is exactly the kind of play that the Giants spent all offseason saying they wanted to see from the offense installed by offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. It’s come with a drop in his yards per attempt and the team hasn’t made many big plays at all, but, again, that’s the offense they seemed to want during the offseason.

Reese said that Manning is playing “pretty well,” but also suggested that the quarterback is too cautious because you have to throw the ball down the field to win. Manning has a different take on the situation.

“You can’t just start throwing it deep and [think] that’s the solution,” Manning said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

Setting aside the issue of the tenets of the offensive scheme that McAdoo installed, Manning spent a lot of time trying to throw it deep behind an offensive line that couldn’t block last season and paid the price for it. The line’s had some better moments this season, but they’ve been less effective the last two weeks and the loss of Victor Cruz has taken away one of the players Manning liked to look for down the field. Rookie Odell Beckham appears able to pick up some of the slack in that department, but the line will need to be more consistent and the offense will have to be crisper across the board if those plays are going to open up for the Giants in the second half.

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