A look at three topics of conversation that surfaced this afternoon during Roger Goodell's closing press conference at the NFL owners meetings ...
1) It's been 26 days since the NFL released its initial findings in the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. Yet still, no players have been reprimanded. When's that going to come?
Goodell still wouldn’t offer a timetable for when he expects to levy punishment on the players implicated in the Saints bounty scandal. The commissioner said by the end of this week he planned to talk to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA, seeking a recommendation for a reprimand. Goodell also asserted that he remains sensitive to the Saints’ personnel dilemma, understanding their need to find replacements for any players who could face a significant suspension.
Furthermore, as he’s done since the bounty revelations surfaced three-and-a-half weeks ago, Goodell shook an iron fist at any and all forms of non-contract bonuses for players.
“We are not going to allow cash payments to go between players, with club involvement or no club involvement,” he said. “That’s impermissible. Our rules are quite clear. We’ll be sending those [to teams] so they see them. And we are going to take that element out of the game.”
Still, the league will find itself in murky territory as it tries to police the matter. For example, differentiating a reward for trying to injure an opposing a player from a reward for big plays from a gift of appreciation given by a quarterback to his offensive linemen will require some effort. And truthfully, there will be little way of the NFL regulating any sort of under-the-table pay-for-play systems that are not organized and run by the team itself.
Said Goodell: “How do eliminate this from the game? And we do need the players’ cooperation to eliminate it from the game. They’re a big part of this. And if they feel it’s important to the game, we need to find solutions to that.”
That said, Goodell believes he has sent a pretty clear message to league owners, general managers and coaches about their need to adhere to the highest ethics.
“I think I’ve been pretty clear. I hold coaches and executives to a higher standard,” he said. “That’s an important element of what the NFL is all about.”
2) Are we safe in assuming the NFL favors a 16-game regular season for the foreseeable future?
Goodell indicated that debate on an expanded 18-game regular season schedule could resume later this fall or early next year. After last season’s lockout, the league wants to examine how safety-related changes to the collective bargaining agreement impact the game before continuing discussion on the 18-game possibility.
Said Goodell: "We're going to have to get through this offseason cycle and try to see what the negotiated offseason cycle is like – the impact it has on the game, the impact it has on the individual players. And then we'll sit down and probably be discussing it."
3) What's the latest on the league's heightened attention to player safety?
The diagnosis and treatment of concussions remains a high-priority issue for the NFL and its teams. Yet it’s a difficult animal for the league and the Players Association to wrap their arms around. Late last season, the league began placing independent certified trainers in the press box of every NFL game responsible for monitoring head injuries. That move was to help assure that a player who suffers a concussion isn’t sent back onto the field.
But Goodell said Wednesday he doesn’t believe that team medical and training staffs are erring with their judgments.
“That doesn't seem to be the issue, the medical judgments,” Goodell said. “When the doctors are making those medical judgments, they make good ones.”
One hurdle that still needs to be cleared is the hesitance for players to self-report head injuries in fear of being removed for the rest of the game and perhaps longer. That’s where, Goodell said, the spotters up above should be able to assist.
“We can assist the medical professionals [on the field] in identifying when an impact occurs that should be evaluated. So again, the doctor can then make their evaluation. When doctors have had the opportunity to make that evaluation, they make good judgments. We have great confidence in that.”