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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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Favre frets over Hall of Fame speech

MADISON, WI - JUNE 25: Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre acknowledges the crowd during the celebrity golf scramble on the 18th hole during the second round of the Champions Tour American Family Insurance Championship at University Ridge Golf Course on June 25, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) Getty Images

The annual Hall of Fame ceremony is coming soon, which means that the new class of inductees soon will be giving their speeches. One of those guys who will be speaking seems to be getting a little anxious about that.

“At some point, I have to start preparing a speech — which I am not good at doing,” Favre said at an appearance at a golf course in Wisconsin on Sunday, via Jason Wilde of ESPN.com. “It’s closing fast. As we get older, we find that time flies. That’s the case here. It seems like yesterday I was just preparing for [returning to] Green Bay this past summer. It’ll be here quick.”

Preparing the speech isn’t difficult, especially when a guy has the money and/or the connections to get help in putting thoughts together. The key will be to deliver the speech as written without riffing or improvising or filibustering. Keep it simple, keep it short, come up with a few good lines, wave, smile, and sit.

It’s been argued that new Hall of Famers are entitled to drone on and on if they choose to do so. To the extent, however, that the speeches are part of a live TV show and not recorded and edited to trim out much of the droning on and on, the goal should be not to talk and talk and talk in the hopes of eventually tripping over something memorable but to come up with something memorable ahead of time, practice the delivery, walk up to the podium in that new gold jacket, and nail it.

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Nate Robinson continues to pursue football career

GettyImages-453365989-478x630-3 Getty Images

The Seahawks gave former NBA player Nate Robinson a look-see not that long ago, and coach Pete Carroll made it clear that it won’t be easy for Robinson to make it in the NFL. To his credit, that hasn’t stopped him from trying.

Via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com, Robinson continues to work out in the hopes of making it to the NFL. He’s been training with former Arkansas State receiver Dwayne Frampton. (Chris Berman perhaps would say that Frampton is showing Robinson the way.)

Although Carroll said it will be “all but impossible” for Robinson to make it in the NFL, Carroll admitted that “if anyone could it might be Nate.”

Here’s hoping Nate keeps trying. Too many people like to talk about all the things they could do if they truly wanted to. It’s nice to see someone try, regardless of whether he ultimately succeeds.

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Fewer players are getting arrested in the offseason

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The NFL has taken a hard line over the last decade when it comes to players who get into trouble away from the field. Changes to the Personal Conduct Policy in 2007 had an impact, but even more changes (including the introduction of paid leave) sparked by 2014 incidents involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson seemed to get the attention of most players.

Arrests are still happening, but not with the same frequency — as indicated by a “days without an arrest” meter that often gets well into the 20s, 30, and 40s between incidents. The fact that the number currently sits at 26 in the break between the end of offseason programs and the opening of training camps shows that players who are left to their own devices are avoiding trouble better than they once did.

There have been nine players arrests since January 1. Last year, there were 13 in the first half of the year. Two years ago, there were 21. In 2013, the number was 29.

It’s not just an offseason phenomenon. At one point last season, more than two months passed between arrests of any of the roughly 2,000 players on rosters or practice squads.

That’s real progress, a testament to the arguably heavy-handed (but apparently effective) efforts of the NFL to beef up the consequences for players accused of wrongdoing. So while viable arguments remain regarding the ability of the Commissioner to serve as a truly fair and impartial arbitrator of disciplinary decisions made by the league office, the current system seems to be working. Well.

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Falcons don’t rule out playing 2017 preseason home games not in their new home

88343831 AP

There’s been plenty of news lately about the eventually-to-be-opened-Falcons stadium, and not much of it good.

The whole cheap-beer-and-hot-dog news was good. The whole $200-million-more-in-change-orders wasn’t good. The $172-million-in-money-for-nothing news was good for the team but not for the folks who have to buy the right to actually sit in the seats that go with their tickets.

Here’s another nugget that wouldn’t be good news for anyone: The Falcons haven’t ruled out the possibility that the stadium won’t be ready for the team’s 2017 preseason games.

We would have options,” Falcons CEO Rich McKay said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “You’ve obviously got the University of Georgia. You’ve got Georgia Tech. But I wouldn’t say that we view this as . . . it’s not even a consideration of something we’ve looked into. We’re very confident in June 1, so we don’t view it as a problem. But we have alternatives.”

One alternative won’t be the team’s current home, the Georgia Dome.

“It will not be an option,” McKay said. “It will be on its way down.”

McKay also pointed out that another possibility would be to play all of the preseason games on the road, something the Buccaneers did when their current stadium opened in 1997.

The team still fully expects that the stadium will be ready to go on June 1, the new date that replaced the prior date (in which they presumably had full confidence) of March 1. If it isn’t ready for the preseason, however, it apparently won’t be a problem.

If it isn’t ready for the regular season, that would probably be a problem.

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Roger Lewis tries to put rape accusations behind him

502373872 Getty Images

Giants rookie receiver Roger Lewis wasn’t drafted, quite possibly due not to talent but an off-field issue that nearly landed him in prison.

Charged as a high-school student with two counts of rape arising from incidents with the same alleged victim that occurred 36 days apart in December 2011 and January 2012, Lewis eventually landed at Bowling Green and did well enough to get a shot to make an NFL roster.

“Things had to make me stronger as a 18-year-old going through hard times,” Lewis told the New York Post. “I think I feel very prepared because, you know, situations make or break you.”

The situation nearly broke him. Acquitted by a jury on one rape charge, the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict as to the second charge. With a second trial on that charge approaching, Lewis pleaded guilty to providing false information to police.

“All this, everything that’s happening, is just God blessing me with just the little things,” Lewis said. “Just reminding myself that I’m an undrafted free agent. . . . I have to play with a chip on my shoulder every day.”

His new boss has noticed.

“He’s a guy that has a chip on his shoulder, doesn’t say much and goes about his business the right way,” coach Ben McAdoo told the Post. “He’s businesslike, and we like that about him.”

It still won’t be easy for Lewis to make the climb from 90 to 53.

“[It will be] a huge learning curve from the system he was in in college to what he’s asked to do here,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan told the Post. “We’ve seen some good things from Roger, and we’re excited to have him in the mix.”

Lewis has a long way to go to become the team’s next Victor Cruz. The more attention he receives, the more people will notice the fact that he was a hung jury away from going to prison for rape.

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For now, Eagles plan to make Carson Wentz inactive on Sundays

Quarterback Carson Wentz throws a pass during the Philadelphia Eagles' rookie minicamp at the team's NFL football training facility, Friday, May 13, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) AP

The Eagles have said they’re going to be patient with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. They may be so patient that Wentz doesn’t even put on his uniform for a game this season.

With Sam Bradford slated to open the season as the starter and Chase Daniel penciled in at No. 2, Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice reports that there’s a very good chance Wentz won’t be active on game days.

Many teams only suit up two quarterbacks on game days now that the NFL has eliminated the “emergency quarterback” rule. So if Bradford and Daniel are both healthy, that could leave Wentz in street clothes.

Of course, that’s assuming things go according to plan and Bradford plays well and stays healthy. Given that Bradford has often not played well and not stayed healthy, there’s no guarantee things will go according to plan for the Eagles.

And teams have proclaimed in the past that they were going to give a rookie quarterback a “redshirt” year, only to change that plan. Two years ago, the Jaguars spent the entire offseason insisting that first-round rookie quarterback Blake Bortles would spend his rookie season on the bench. That grand plan lasted until Week Three.

If Bradford struggles or gets hurt, or if the Eagles are out of contention late in the season, it’s likely that Wentz would get some playing time. But as of now, the plan is to bury Wentz on the depth chart and let him learn from the bench.

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Jets are thrilled with Darron Lee’s attitude

ld1 AP

The Jets and linebacker Darron Lee have yet to agree to terms on a contract. The Jets don’t seem to be concerned about it, probably because they’re too busy being thrilled with how Lee conducted himself during the offseason program. (With the exception of that time he tackled a guy in non-contact practice.)

He’s been a pleasant surprise, Jets linebackers coach Mike Caldwell said, via Darryl Slater of NJ.com. “He’s been picking things up well. What we saw on film, what we saw in college, he’s been showing it.”

The “pleasant surprise” comes mainly from Lee’s professionalism.

“He comes into meetings and he’s hungry to learn,” Caldwell said. “Sometimes you see rookies that think they know it all. He’s eager to learn and he’s soaking it all up and the older guys are helping him. That’s a surprising part of it.”

He’s specifically listening to veterans David Harris and Erin Henderson.

“It’s a good situation for [Lee] because he has a personality that will accept other guys’ opinions and other guys’ knowledge,” Caldwell said. “David has a great deal of knowledge and so does Erin. He’s in a great situation because he can come in and learn behind those guys.”

It may not be long before he’s in front of one or both of those guys.

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Marvin Lewis advises Dirk Koetter to “throw deep”

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NFL coaches are competitors, but that doesn’t stop plenty of them from being friends. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter have been friends for years, dating back to their shared time at Idaho State, where they met as graduate students.

Now, they hold two of the most desirable jobs in all of sports, and Lewis, who has coached the Bengals since 2003, had some free advice for Koetter.

Throw deep,” Koetter told the Idaho State Journal, via JoeBucsFan.com.

“I’m serious,” Koetter added. “Marvin’s a defensive coach. I’m an offensive coach. He said offenses don’t throw deep enough.”

Marvin is right. A deep pass carries a potentially significant reward at relatively low risk. The receiver can (duh) catch the ball or draw a pass interference penalty, which continues to be a spot foul in the NFL. The downside is an incompletion or an interception so far down the field that it simulates a punt.

I’ve joked (only half-jokingly) since the Packers-Cardinals division-round epic that Green Bay should make the Hail Mary part of its base offense, given the team’s uncanny ability to convert when the defense knows it’s coming. Maybe it shouldn’t be a joke at all; maybe every team should periodically fake a handoff to freeze the safeties for a half-second and then fire the ball deep on a regular basis.

So go ahead, head coaches. Your quarterbacks all believe they can throw the football over them mountains. Let them do try, often.

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Sammy Watkins changes stance, says he could miss camp

Sammy Watkins AP

Not long after Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins said he expected to be on the field early in training camp, Watkins is apparently changing his prognosis.

Watkins told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure that though he “feels good,” he doesn’t know when he’ll be cleared and hopes to be able to participate in training camp.

If not, then cool,” Watkins said. “Get ready for the first game.”

That takes his timetable for a projected return from early August to any time from August to early September. Watkins last week told TSN.ca that he’d “definitely be available” and might only miss two or three days of camp, which begins in late July.

The Bills won’t rush Watkins back from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot, and Watkins sounded like he’s fine waiting if that’s what it takes, too. He said he hasn’t run in the last three or four weeks.

“Really, I just [have] to stay healthy,” he said. “It’s about taking good time. Listen to the medical staff and hopefully it works out.”

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Texans hope Jadeveon Clowney has already had as many injuries “as he needs to have”

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is sacked by Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans in the third quarter on December 13, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Texans took linebacker Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick of the 2014 draft, their hope was that he’d team with defensive end J.J. Watt to lift the team’s defense to the top of the league.

Injuries have kept that from happening. Clowney has missed 15 regular season games and last year’s playoff loss to the Chiefs because of a variety of injuries, leaving his potential unfulfilled as he heads into his third season.

Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel said that he saw increased resolve from Clowney on the field and in the classroom during this year’s offseason program, something that he believes Clowney needs to make a bigger impact for the Texans in 2016. That can’t happen unless he’s healthy, of course, and there’s not much that General Manager Rick Smith and the rest of the team can do but hope that’s the case.

“When he’s been on the field, he’s been pretty disruptive, pretty impactful,” Smith said, via the Houston Chronicle. “It’s just that he has suffered some injuries, which you would hope is that he’s already had as many as he needs to have, right? Just from a standpoint of luck, hopefully the guy has had his share of injuries and he will have an opportunity to play for an extended amount of time because I think what you see, when you see him on the field, you see productive play. He’s going to work at that. Some of those injuries it’s not like he’s getting hurt because he’s not working. The nature of the injuries he’s had are not such that it’s an indicator of the guy’s not being conditioned or ready to play. It’s just the nature of the game. Hopefully, he’s had his share of them and he’ll be on the field consistently.”

There were flashes of good play for Clowney last season, but missing Week 17 and the playoff loss meant the year ended on another down note and the questions about his durability remain firmly in place. Should they still be in place after the 2016 season, the Texans’ hopefulness may give away to resignation that Clowney’s health won’t allow him to make good on their expectations.

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Luke Kuechly: Defense has plenty of “attitude, enthusiasm” without Josh Norman

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:   Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a play against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said last week that the Panthers need to bring the same mindset to the 2016 season that they had heading into last season, but they won’t be bringing back the same group of players.

The biggest departure is cornerback Josh Norman, who signed with the Redskins after the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag they used early in the offseason. Norman played a big role in Carolina’s success last season both with his play on the field and as an emotional leader off of it, but Kuechly thinks the team is well-stocked with players who can fill the latter void.

“When you lose a guy like Josh, obviously, he’s entertainment, energy, attitude, but that’s kind of been the attitude of our defense,” Kuechly said to Tiffany Blackmon of NFL Media. “You know, you still have Thomas [Davis] and Charles [Johnson] and Kurt Coleman bring an edge and we’ve got a bunch of guys that still bring that attitude, enthusiasm. We’ve got older guys that when the young guys come in and they can kind of teach them what the mentality’s like and get them on the same page.”

They drafted three cornerbacks in April to help fill out the corps in Norman’s absence and Kuechly said he thinks “they’ll be good for us” come the fall. With the likes of Kuechly, Davis, Johnson, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei still on hand, the Panthers have plenty of talent left on defense to help ease their transition to the professional ranks and reason to expect more success after last year’s NFC title.

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Networks escape Sunday Ticket class action

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The networks that broadcast NFL games will no longer be required to answer for the way those broadcasts are bundled and sold by the NFL and DirecTV.

Via the Hollywood Reporter, NBC, CBS, FOX, and ESPN no longer appear as defendants in a class action that challenges the manner in which the league and its satellite partner market the NFL Sunday Ticket product.

This doesn’t mean that the networks will be immune from involvement in the case. For now, though, none of them face potential financial liability.

The lawsuits began last June, not long after the settlement of a challenge regarding the NHL’s distribution of games via DirecTV. Within a month, at least three class actions were filed. Now, all pending lawsuits have been consolidated into one case.

Apparently, the networks were added as some point in order to prevent consolidation, since the lawyers who filed the individuals cases presumably didn’t want to give up control over their own litigation. Once those efforts failed, the networks became unnecessary to the broader attack on the league’s exclusive distribution of out-of-market games through the Sunday Ticket package.

A key threshold question once the case gets to the substance and not the procedure will be whether the federal broadcast antitrust exemption applies to the distribution of out-of-market games. If it doesn’t, the end result of the litigation could be a requirement that each team be permitted to cut its own deal regarding the availability of games beyond the traditional broadcast marketplace, requiring (allowing) teams like the Cowboys and Packers and Steelers to make a lot more by selling, for example, streaming rights to their games beyond the markets where they otherwise are available via over-the-air broadcasts. (The other side of the coin would be that nationally unpopular teams — and they know who they are without me listing them — would make a lot less.)

If that happens, there would be dramatic changes to the way that football fans consume games that aren’t televised over FCC-regulated network affiliates in their local areas. If, for example, a Saints fan only wanted to see Saints games, the Saints fan would be able to buy the ability to watch all Saints games not otherwise televised for free in that fan’s geographic region. The price should be a lot less than buying the entire Sunday Ticket package, which is currently the only way for fans of one team to see that team’s games only.

The end result for the league would be dramatic fluctuations in the money the various teams make from broadcasting games. Absent a commitment to share among all 32 teams whatever any of them earns by selling out-of-market satellite, cable, or streaming rights on their own, it could create a significant disparity in revenue between the most and least nationally popular clubs.

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Leonard Williams “more comfortable overall” in second year

Leonard Willimas AP

Among the reasons cited for the lack of a serious push from the Jets to sign defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to a long-term contract this offseason is the presence of Sheldon Richardson and 2015 first-round pick Leonard Williams.

With Williams and Richardson filling out the defensive line, the argument is that the Jets don’t feel they need to commit to Wilkerson beyond the franchise tag they gave him for the coming season. Williams backed up that feeling as a rookie by leading the team in quarterback hits while recording 63 tackles and three sacks.

Williams says he’d like to do even more as a pass rusher this season and feels prepared to take a step up now that he’s had more time in the team’s defensive scheme.

“It is different because last year I just kept thinking, ‘rookie, rookie, rookie,’ but now … I know that I’m a pro now,” Williams said, via the New York Post. “I know the playbook now, so I don’t have to think as much when I’m out there, I can just play. It’s less pressure now that I’m not a rookie anymore, and I don’t have to have that tag or label on me. It’s just been more comfortable overall this year.”

Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson said Williams has taken his maturity “to another level” this offseason, which supports the notion that he’ll be doing more on the field for the Jets this season. If things play out that way, the Jets will likely feel comfortable about the future of their defensive line wherever Wilkerson winds up in 2017 and beyond.

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Julius Thomas could be poised to have a huge year

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars rushes against  Dwight Lowery #33 of the Indianapolis Colts during the game at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

Three years ago, former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning provided during a preseason DirecTV-sponsored media tour a tip for anyone who was paying attention: Pay attention to tight end Julius Thomas.

As Thomas prepares for his second season with the Jaguars, here’s a tip for anyone who is paying attention: What Peyton said.

Via Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union, Thomas and quarterback Blake Bortles looked “nearly unstoppable” during Organized Team Activities and minicamp. While shorts and T-shirts football remains a far cry from real football, it won’t be a surprise if Thomas and Bortles are indeed unstoppable this year.

Last season, Thomas broke his hand during the preseason. This season, assuming that he stays healthy, Thomas will have plenty of options in a passing game fueled by receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.

Bortles finished second in the league last season with 35 touchdown passes. If he has a healthy Thomas for the full season, Bortles could throw even more touchdown passes — and Thomas could catch plenty of them.

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Greenbrier taking in flood victims

FALLING ROCK, WV - JUNE 25: People trudge through the mud left over from the flooding of the Elk River along State Route 119, on June 25, 2016 in Falling Rock, West Virginia. The flooding of the Elk River claimed the lives of at least 23 people in West Virginia. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images) Getty Images

The resort where the Saints have held training camp the last few years has closed its doors indefinitely after record flooding devastated the region. Although it’s not open for business, the Greenbrier is making some of its rooms available to those who have lost their homes as a result of 8-10 inches of rain that fell in only 6-8 hours.

The result has been described as “complete chaos,” with at least 24 dead.

“Roads destroyed, bridges out, homes burned down, washed off foundations,” Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill said, via Weather.com. “Multiple sections of highway just missing. Pavement just peeled off like a banana. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

With so many hills and mountains in West Virginia, the combination of water and gravity floods the valleys with water and mud (a lot of mud), where the houses and the people are.

“We pretty much live in a bowl, and the bowl filled with water, certainly,” Richwood, West Virginia Mayor Robert Johnson told the Associated Press.

People throughout West Virginia need help right now. Donations can be made to the United Way of Greenbrier County, the Red Cross, where an immediate $10 donation came be made by texting REDCROSS to 90999, and through an initiative launched by the Greenbrier to assist flood victims.

PFT has a strong connection to West Virginia. If you enjoy (or enjoy not enjoying) what you see on these pages, make a small donation to the effort to help people turn their lives around after, in barely a third of a day, their lives were turned upside down.

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