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Updated Feb. 5, 2010 @ 6:15 p.m. ET
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In what was hardly a surprise to those in attendance, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's annual state of the league press conference was dominated by questions related to the looming labor crisis between management and the players' union.
Of the 34 questions Goodell fielded, 11 — approximately one-third — had to do with the threat of a work stoppage in 2011, an uncapped year in 2010, negotiations with the union or some other labor-related issue.
This line of questioning was expected, considering that less than 24 hours earlier, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith told the players' side of the story in a passionate manner during the union's annual Super Bowl week press conference.
"The labor agreement is a very important agreement," Goodell said. "It's something that is important to our players. It's certainly important to our clubs, and it's important to our fans. We have to sit at the table and we have to get an agreement that works for everybody. And that's what people expect. They expect solutions, and I think it's our responsibility to sit down at that table and work out the issues. I think there's been a lot of dialogue, but we need productivity. We need to get those solutions on the table and start getting to an agreement, because that's what our fans want. They want solutions, and that's what we should deliver."
Goodell refuted Smith's allegation that the league is proactively taking steps to encourage a lockout in ’11, most notably by negotiating TV contracts that pay the NFL even if no games are played.
"We want an agreement, and I think every owner will say the same thing," Goodell said. "We want an agreement that's fair to the game, to the players, and will allow us to continue to invest in the game. The idea that ownership would be anxious for a work stoppage is absolutely false. You don't make money by shutting down your business. It's a bad scenario for everybody. I can assure you the ownership and I believe the players, in talking to individual players, want to get an agreement and want to work to do that. We are currently committed to do that, and I am right there at the forefront."
On Thursday, when asked to rank the likelihood of a lockout in ’11 on a scale from one to 10, Smith stated it was at a 14.
When asked to respond to that comment, Goodell said he couldn't make that prediction.
"I couldn't make that prediction, and I sure hope he's wrong," Goodell said. "And I sure hope it doesn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Right now, we don't need a lot of focus on that. We need to take advantage of the opportunity we have right now to structure an agreement and sit down and negotiate. That's how this is going to get done and we will have an agreement. It's just a matter of when, but talking about options like work stoppages is not going to get us there. We need to sit down and make those deals and figure out how to structure something that makes sense. I mentioned it before — a work stoppage is not a positive outcome for anybody for any side. Both sides lose money, and the fans, most importantly, will lose football, so we've got to avoid that. And our commitment and our determination is to work hard to do that."
When he wasn't being peppered with questions about the uncertain labor situation, Goodell answered questions on a wide array of topics.
Regarding the relevance of the Rooney Rule, given the perception that sham interviews were conducted in Seattle and Washington prior to the hiring of white head coaches, Goodell disagreed with the notion that anything had been done contrary to the rules.
"Anytime you're making progress, some people aren't happy with the pace of that progress," Goodell said. "I'm usually at the head of that list, and I would like to see more rapid progress. And there are going to be a lot of coaches in the NFL — black, white, Hispanic — that are going to be frustrated because there's only 32 opportunities out there as head coach. But we have made progress, and I think we'll sit down at the end of this hiring season, and we'll work with the Fritz Pollard Alliance and others, figure out what it is we can do to evolve the rule itself, or maybe other modifications that can continue to ensure that we have the right kind of processes in place so that people get the opportunity. There are a lot of great coaches out there. They deserve an opportunity to coach in the NFL, and it is a unique position, and we have to make sure that we provide that opportunity to everybody to get the best people on our field and off the field. We have implemented in the NFL office the Rooney Rule across all of our positions. It's been seen as a rule that's had tremendous benefits not just in football but in all industries, and I get letters about it when they implement it in other industries. Absolutely. I think it's become a model success."
There has been a great amount of debate surrounding the timing of the Pro Bowl, which was played in South Florida the week before the Super Bowl this year, instead of the week after the title game in Hawaii. Colts GM Bill Polian was angry that his Pro Bowl players were forced to fly to Miami a day earlier than the rest of the team to appear at the game, while others have maintained that a Pro Bowl without 14 players from the Super Bowl teams diminished the spirit of the game.
The folks in South Florida, however, disagreed, as the game was sold out and had the highest attendance of any Pro Bowl in the past 50 years.
Goodell said he believes the game was a great success, and he related a story that a player shared with him this week. The unidentified player said the Pro Bowl in Hawaii was a game for the players, and it was great to be over there, but this time around it was great for NFL fans.
What does the future of the Pro Bowl look like? Goodell was noncommittal.
"They have great fans out there, we're back there for two more years (in ’11 and ’12), and we'll continue to build on the successes we had here and make the game better," said Goodell.
Other topics that were discusssed:
• Placing a Super Bowl in the new stadium that is being built in New Jersey for the Giants and Jets. Goodell said that in order for the bid for a New York-area Super Bowl to be played in 2014 to go through, an exception had to be made to the rule regarding weather. The NFL has only approved Super Bowls in warm-weather climates or in cities that have domed stadiums.
"I think there are real benefits to the league considering this as an option," Goodell said. "I think the idea of playing in the elements is central to the way the game of football is played. I think being able to do that and celebrate the game of football in the number one market could have tremendous benefits to the league going forward. I think you will see that — I think our two co-chairmen are here, Woody Johnson and Jon Tisch — they will put together a very aggressive bid, one that will demonstrate the value of playing in New York, and they will be competing against some great cities also. It will be an interesting vote."
• The viability of the Jaguars franchise in Jacksonville has come under scrutiny after a season in which most of their home games were played with more than 20,000 empty seats.
"First, let me say we know what's going on in the marketplace, and what our fans and partners are facing in terms of economic challenges," Goodell said. "I've spent an awful lot of time with Wayne (Weaver) talking about what's happening in Jacksonville and how that is impacting the attendance. I think Wayne said it very well, that despite other factors, you can't continue to have an NFL franchise with 40,000 people in the stands. We've got to try to improve that. Wayne has been very aggressive in working with the business community, and we will support him in every way. We know there are millions of fans in North Florida that want to continue to see the Jaguars play the great football they did this year, and we will support that, and hopefully we'll see better results going forward."
• With the seriousness of concussions getting extra attention this season, Goodell was asked if he anticipates making any changes to league policies or restricting contact in practice in an effort to cut down on the number of traumatic brain injuries.
"Well, all of those things are under consideration as far as the offseason training," Goodell said. "I think we need to look at this holistically. What is it that the league can do to try to make the game safer for our players, and that includes rules, equipment and offseason training. How do we make sure our players are prepared for this game and have the best resources to be successful? And I think there are some things in my meetings with Tony Dungy and the players — which we had three of them now — that have been very productive. We focus an awful lot on that offseason issue. It's not only the wear and tear for them, it's really the other issues — focus on family, focus on their futures a little bit in the offseason. Give them a chance to be able to prepare for what they are going to face when they retire from the game of football. Tony and I have had some great meetings with these players, and I think we will continue to make improvements in that area."
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