Goodell optimistic about labor deal

BY Alex Marvez • December 15, 2010

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says there is “no higher priority” than signing a new labor agreement with the league’s players.

“We’ll work night and day to get that done,” he said.

Even so, that doesn’t mean a new collective bargaining agreement is in the offing any time soon.

Speaking on Wednesday after a special owners meeting focused primarily on labor negotiations, Goodell acknowledged that a new pact won’t be finalized by the end of the regular season on Jan. 2. Goodell did say there was a “realistic” chance a deal could be reached by the conclusion of Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 “if we all commit to it and work hard at it.”

The current CBA expires on March 4, which would lead to a likely work stoppage through either a lockout by NFL owners or possible decertification of the NFL Players Association.

“There are discussions going on, but it takes productive dialogue,” Goodell said at a news conference at the Omni Hotel in Fort Worth. “We’ve got to get to the kind of place where we’re making significant progress in getting an agreement. I think it’s a positive sign that we’re having dialogue. But like I’ve said, it’s not just about having meetings or dialogue. It’s about getting real significant progress on the key issues.”

In October, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed optimism that a CBA agreement could be reached before the end of the regular season. Kraft declined comment after Wednesday’s meeting concluded.

Most owners in attendance refused comment on what was discussed in the meeting. The NFL and NFLPA have maintained dialogue, but it isn’t believed that substantial progress is being made.

“I think everyone wants to head in the right direction,” Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said. “That’s everyone’s intention. That’s all I can say at this point.”

Asked by FOXSports.com to quantify the meeting, Pittsburgh Steelers president/co-owner Art Rooney II said, “I’m not sure if I’d describe it as positive or negative. It was probably a useful business meeting.”

More useful meetings between the NFL and NFLPA are needed if the two sides are to prevent the league’s first work stoppage since 1987. Major issues that must be decided include revamped revenue sharing, the NFL’s proposed adaptation of an 18-game regular-season schedule and implementation of a rookie salary cap.

Goodell also said he hopes the CBA’s verbiage can be simplified compared to the current labor pact that has gotten amended repeatedly since first being adopted in 1993.

“This has become a very complex agreement,” Goodell said. “I think there’s an effort to simplify. I think that’s a key priority for both sides.”

NFL owners also viewed a video Wednesday showing what Goodell claimed was the positive impact of the league’s officiating efforts to curb blows to the head. Goodell said he plans to discuss the implementation of more safety-oriented rules with the NFL’s competition committee after the season ends.

Goodell was asked about the public and media perception of inconsistent officiating when it comes to rules enforcement for borderline hits.

“The No. 1 thing we try to achieve with officiating is consistency,” Goodell said. “That’s whether it’s the player safety rules or rule enforcement in general. We do instruct the officials to err on the side of safety, but they’re going to miss calls. They have missed calls, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not a violation of the rules and something we won’t follow up with, including (player) fines. But you always want to strive to be more consistent with officiating. We obviously will continue to make that a priority.”

Inconsistent officiating has led to complaints by Steelers players and ownership about being unfairly targeted in the league’s crackdown of borderline hits.

“They just were trying to show how players are trying to adjust,” Rooney said of the NFL’s presentation. “It was interesting. They did a good job. It was a good video.”

Rooney, though, believes the NFL needs to conduct a further review “at the end of the season when you have a chance to look back at the whole season at how we did. But there’s definitely things improving on certain fronts.”

Other topics Goodell addressed:

• The NFL’s competition committee is expected to discuss the possibility of presenting a proposal that would change playoff seeding to reward teams with better records more so than lesser division winners. The debate stems from the poor play of the NFC West, which could field the first division winner with a losing record in NFL history yet still host a first-round playoff game by virtue of the current playoff format.

All four teams — St. Louis (6-7), Seattle (6-7), San Francisco (5-8) and Arizona (4-9) — remain mathematically alive in the NFC West race. The division winner also could finish with a substantially worse record than another nondivision winning NFC team that doesn’t land a wild-card berth. That happened in 2008 when the New England Patriots (11-5) missed the postseason while San Diego (8-8) reached the playoffs as AFC West champion.

The possibility of a revamped playoff format was last presented for serious debate in the 2008 offseason but had such little support that the proposal was quickly tabled and never resubmitted for consideration at future NFL meeting.

“‘Win your division, get a home game.’ ... That’s what the clubs really felt should be the priority,” Goodell said.

• While no official announcement was made, it appears Monday night’s Chicago-Minnesota game will be played outdoors in the University of Minnesota’s football stadium with the Metrodome out of commission because of a snow-damaged roof. The long-range weather forecast calls for temperatures near or at single-digits at kickoff in Minneapolis.

“I think it would be a great experience for the fans and the NFL,” said Goodell, referring to the fact the Vikings haven’t hosted an outdoor regular-season home game since moving to the Metrodome in 1982. “It’s something we would rather not have happen. The fortunate thing is nobody was hurt (in the roof accident). But the safety of our facility is important to us. I was actually planning on being in Minnesota previous to this, so I will be there.”

Goodell said he has received a report about a tampering claim filed by the Kansas City Chiefs against the Detroit Lions, a story first reported by FOXSports.com. Goodell, though, didn’t offer a timetable on when a decision would be made or potential punishment if the Lions are found guilty.



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