When it comes to the NFL, Roger Goodell knows there’s nothing like the real thing.
Although the NFL commissioner didn’t completely dismiss the idea of using replacement players in 2011, Goodell indicated Tuesday that the league has no plans of doing so even if the current labor impasse extends into the regular season.
"We haven’t had any discussions or considerations of replacement players," Goodell said Tuesday afternoon at the conclusion of the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. "It’s not in our plans."
The NFL used replacements in 1987 when the NFL Players Association staged an in-season strike. That also marked the last time the league had a work stoppage until the NFL locked out its players March 11 when the collective bargaining agreement expired and the NFLPA decertified as a union.
The three 1987 replacement games are remembered for inferior play and a decline in fan interest. But with the NFL continuing to operate, enough current players crossed picket lines to end the strike with just one contest lost.
Players staged an in-season strike in 1982 that cost the league seven games before normal play resumed.
Goodell said he hasn’t spoken with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith since labor negotiations collapsed. No further talks are scheduled with both parties waiting to learn whether a Minnesota judge will order the league’s lockout lifted. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 6.
Asked his level of confidence that the NFL will have a full season of games, Goodell said, "We’re certainly planning on having a full season. That’s our objective. We’re going to work as hard as we can to make that become a reality. The players chose to litigate. We’re going to have to obviously settle that."
Goodell said the NFL’s intention to have a full slate of games is why 31 of 32 franchises have billed season-ticket holders for renewals. The New York Giants are the lone exception.
"We’re preparing to play for the 2011 season," Goodell said. "We’ve identified policies for refunds if that’s necessary. We’ve had communication with our fans. We want them to know what’s going on."
Goodell recently drew the NFLPA’s ire by sending a letter last Thursday spelling out what he says was the league’s final proposal to the players. NFLPA members described the letter as "deceptive" and a "joke."
Goodell didn’t seem bothered by that response.
"The ownership wanted to make sure the players knew what their leadership had walked away from in the mediation process," he said. "We sent that directly to the players. They’re claiming not to be a union. We think it was important for us to send that so the players understood what the owners had offered.
"I understand there’s usually a reaction when those things happened. The most important thing that happened is people were informed."
Goodell wouldn’t guarantee the last offer made by the NFL would still be there when CBA negotiations do resume.
"I’ve said very clearly that the proposal we gave them specifically identifies this (offer) to avoid a work stoppage," Goodell said. "Every day that goes by makes it harder and harder to keep the elements in that proposal."
The lockout has caused the NFL to change its personnel and business stratagems. No contact with players is permissible. The free-agent signing period also is on hold.
NFL counsel Jeff Pash said that five teams were fined because of improper contact with players during what is known as a "dead" period (i.e. the end of a team’s season until the start of the league’s calendar year in March). The Miami Dolphins were one of the clubs fined, according to The Palm Beach Post.
The NFL also will have to cancel its June rookie symposium in Canton, Ohio if the lockout continues.
The NFL’s annual draft activities April 28 to 30 also may be adversely affected. The NFLPA is expected to stage a rival draft event. NFLPA members are also leaning on rookies not to attend the league’s festivities at Radio City Music Hall because of the labor impasse.
"It’s a great thing, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for players to enjoy the success they’ve had to start their careers and be able to do that on the stage and participate in the draft," Goodell said of the NFL’s draft event. "It’s a great moment for me personally. I hope that’s not denied and something the players are put in a predicament about having to make that determination."
Labor updates and future planning was the primary focus of the closed-door ownership sessions during the two-day meeting.
"It was a little different, but we got a lot of business done," Pittsburgh Steelers team president Art Rooney II said. "There’s no question (labor) was the main thing we talked about."
Said Dallas Cowboys executive Stephen Jones: "We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us."