Goodell: "We have to get something resolved"

WESTMINSTER – Labor strife is surrounding the league, and the possibility of a lockout in 2011 is a grim reality. During an interview with reporters Wednesday morning at McDaniel College, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the state of the collective bargaining agreement talks, a proposed 18-game regular season, a rookie wage scale as well as concussions and other player-safety issues.

At this point, the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association are far apart with no deal in sight.

"We have to get to work," Goodell said after pulling up to the Baltimore Ravens' training camp with John Madden in the Hall of Fame coach's famed Madden cruiser. "We have to get something resolved, and it's going to take an intensive amount of work. And I know the clubs are committed to working day and night to get that done, and I believe the NFLPA is also. And we've got to get that done."

Goodell said that talks are scheduled and planned, but didn't express an opinion on the progress or lack thereof.

"It doesn't pay much for me to characterize issues," Goodell said. "I think we all know what we've got to get done and work to get an agreement that works for the players and the clubs and, most importantly, the fans."

Goodell has been a strong advocate of an expanded season with two of the four preseason games eliminated and rolled into the regular season.

"That's one of the issues that's on the table that's being discussed," Goodell said. "We've done a lot of work obviously on the club side of the ball and we've shared all that work with the Players Association."

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and union president Kevin Mawae as well as the rank-and-file members of the union are extremely skeptical about the prospect of playing two more games.

They are concerned about the possibility of increased injuries and about being compensated for two games, which should create a considerable amount of additional financial revenue for the league.

"Goodness gracious, well, I guess a lot of things would have to change if we had an 18-game schedule," said wide receiver Derrick Mason, one of the Ravens' union representatives. "You've got take into account a lot of things, injuries, the length of the season, how you would construct it.

"Right now, the game is fine the way it is. Why move it up to 18 games? This league's making a lot of money. How much financial upside are you going to get. They're going to make the decision. Hopefully, they'll make an informed decision."

Goodell isn't blind to the fact that players are opposed to his idea, but that hasn't stopped him from continuing to push for the money-making venture.

" You have to understand they're concerned about the same thing we are, which is, ‘What about the health and safety of our players? And how do we do that the right way?'" Goodell said. "That's why we've talked about the comprehensive nature of this.

"It's just not you staying within the 20-game format and change it. You've got to look at the offseason, the training camps, the practices during the year. How do we prepare players and how do we make sure they stay healthy?"

Goodell held a closed-door meeting with the Ravens' players and he had lunch with union representatives, including tight end Todd Heap, cornerback Chris Carr, Mason and cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who's on the union executive committee.

"It's a chance for me not so much to deliver a message, but to hear from them," Goodell said. "I think it's dialogue, and I've had some great meetings. I get a lot from talking to the players. They talk to me about what they see as trends and their views on issues, and I respect that."

With astronomical contracts for rookies like St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, the top overall pick, receiving $50 million in guaranteed money on a $78 million deal, Goodell is advocating a rookie wage scale.

This is one of the major bargaining chips in the labor discussions.

"I think the system is broken, and we've got to fix it," he said. "It's one of the issues we have to address in the collective bargaining agreement."

It sounds like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's six-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy will ultimately be reduced to four games.

"I'm going to meet again with Ben prior to the start of the regular season and make that determination, but I think he's doing what he's been asked to do and frankly more," Goodell said. "I think he understands the seriousness of this and the fact that he has to change the way he's doing things. So, I'm encouraged by that."

Goodell was extremely vague when asked about the pending two-game suspension for Ravens cornerback Cary Williams for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy when he was with the Tennessee Titans last year prior to coming to Baltimore.

"The first thing you have to do is understand the facts and try to understand what's happening, what clearly did happen, and also hear from the individuals involved," Goodell said. "And that's part of our job. We do an awful lot of work on that and take all these issues into consideration and try to be as fair and consistent as you can."

Goodell was asked his opinion about Baltimore as a football town, drawing upon his youth in Washington. He said he attended 10 Colts games at Memorial Stadium and was also a fan of the Baltimore Orioles.

"I grew up in the Sixties and was a big Colts fan," he said. "So, I understand the passion this area has for football. Obviously, for their Colts, and now for their Ravens. I think they continually demonstrate that. They just love their football."

Goodell was extremely complimentary of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti as well as team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

"I have great respect for Steve and Dick Cass and Ozzie," he said. "They all work very closely with us on league committees and league issues. I admire them, respect them, like them very much, and I think this community is fortunate to have them. And the NFL is fortunate to have them, too."

Goodell also weighed in on the ever-waffling Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. "Brett Favre is great for our game, and I think the passion he has for the game is extraordinary," Goodell said. "I think we all would love to see him play, but we want him to do what's best for him at the end of the day." And Goodell also weighed in on the plight of the fans who want to attend games and struggle to deal with the cost of being an NFL fan in a struggling economy.

"We recognize what our fans and our business partners are going through," Goodell said. "It's tough out there, and I think our clubs have responded in each case in a responsible fashion by working harder, addressing their ticket pricing, addressing their marketing, making it easier for our fans to come to the stadium and enjoy events.

"We keep working on creating value for our fans: improve the quality, the value. And I think the quality of what we do is represented in the fact that we continue to be extremely popular. But that balance of the fans is something that we have to continue to focus on."

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