MIAMI — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he hopes ongoing labor negotiations with the NFL Players Association can soon lead to a new, long-term collective bargaining agreement. But Goodell stopped short of saying that the possibility of moving to a 17-game season was a potential impediment in the talks.
“We’ve had productive dialogue, and it’s now seven, eight months, and each of those discussions has been open, thoughtful,” Goodell said Wednesday at his annual state of the NFL news conference during Super Bowl week. “We’re not going to negotiate in a press conference. We’ve addressed different issues and are looking forward. Players and management have worked to find solutions to make the NFL better. The process will close when the process closes. When we all feel comfortable [about a new deal], I don’t know.”
Goodell said the league is concerned about players’ health and safety, and if any agreement did include the addition of one regular season game, it would be done with an eye toward making sure players are not adversely impacted with the additional strain that a 17-game season might produce.
“Safety has been at the forefront and is the No. 1 priority of our players,” Goodell said. “Over the last 10, 15 years, we’ve had over 50 rules changes to make our game safer. In addition, we’re working on research. We’ve got data on which techniques should be taken out of the game. We don’t look at it as just a 17-game season. Offseason, training camp, how we prepare our players, how we practice during the season. All of those changes have made our game safer.”
The league’s current 10-year deal with the players expires after the 2020 season, but Goodell holds open the possibility a deal could be struck well before then. That includes potential improvements to the league’s pension system for retired players.
“There are changes to the system that could begin immediately that would be felt by our players and our clubs,” he said. “We are also careful that we’re going to get to the right place.”
There has been speculation that Goodell would consider stepping down once the CBA is done and a new round of television contracts are negotiated. But the 60-year-old commissioner, who has been the league’s chief steward since 2006, said he has no plans to leave the NFL any time soon.
“I haven’t thought about retiring,” he said. “It’s not on my agenda. We have too much to do and too many great things are happening in this league. At some point, I am going to retire, and that day is closer to what it was yesterday. But I’m 100 percent committed to this job.”
Goodell addressed several other topics in his 40-minute news conference:
• Diversity hiring. With the league seeing fewer minorities hired for head coaching, general manager and coordinator positions in recent years, Goodell said the NFL will work toward expanding diversity hiring. That could include changes to the Rooney Rule, which requires all teams to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coaching and GM position. “We are not where we want to be,” he said. “We have a lot of work that’s going on, not only with the Rooney Rule, but our policies overall. It’s clear we need to change and do something different. We believe that diversity makes us a better league. That’s something that we’re focused on.”
Goodell also said the league, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, is not ignoring the time period in the 1930s and 1940s when black players were prohibited from playing in the league. “It’s part of our history. We don’t walk away from that,” he said. “It’s not necessarily something that we look back at with pride. We look at what we have done since that time period to make sure we have a league that is diverse.”
• Investigation into the Patriots’ taping of the Bengals’ sideline. Goodell said the league’s investigation into a Patriots employee taping the Bengals’ sideline during a regular season game against the Browns is ongoing. The Patriots admitted that a team employee had taped the sideline as part of a documentary for the team’s website. The Patriots, who were sanctioned in 2007 for illegally videotaping the Jets’ sideline during the first regular season game, insist this not an effort to steal signals from the Bengals. “Our responsibility is to make sure we’re being extremely thorough,” Goodell said. “We have responsibility to the fans to understand all of what happened. I think it hasn’t been that [long of a period] of time. We’re going to get it right.”
• Domestic violence: Goodell said the NFL has learned from its mistakes in the wake of the Ray Rice incident in which he assaulted his fiancé in the elevator of an Atlantic City Casino five years ago. “It’s a complex set of issues with domestic violence,” he said. “There are things we have learned as a league, and with our experts in the field to try to understand how we can educate our coaches, executive, players. All of us go through training every year. I believe we have been incredibly responsive. We have made changes that have been productive, but we live in a world where [domestic violence] unfortunately [happens]. We have to stay ahead of our policy and do whatever possible to prevent these terrible situations from occurring.”
• Antonio Brown. In the wake of Brown’s arrest this month for assault, as well as Brown’s involvement in alleged domestic violence last year, Goodell said the league wants to make sure Brown is receiving the kind of help necessary to address his problems. “We don’t want to talk about the wellness of our players publicly, but you can be sure the NFL and the NFLPA have a tremendous amount of resources,” he said. “We want to help get him on the right track to get in a position where he can be successful in life. We are confident that can happen. The first step is making sure we’re doing everything to help Antonio.” Brown, 30, who was traded from the Steelers to the Raiders in the offseason, was released by Oakland just before the start of the regular season. He played one game for the Patriots before being released after allegations of domestic violence surfaced. He has not played since.
• London franchise. The league has no current plans to base a team in London but will continue to have NFL games played in the United Kingdom. “A timeline has not been set in London for a franchise,” Goodell said. “We have grown incredibly quickly in London. We now have 31 of the 32 teams that have been to London, and all of them come back raving about the experience.” Goodell also said that any consideration about moving a team to Toronto would not occur until the city has a stadium that complies with NFL requirements.
• A potential Las Vegas Super Bowl. The Raiders are moving to Las Vegas in time for the 2020 season, and the NFL Draft will be held there in April. But the league is not ready to commit to a Super Bowl in the new market. “I think we should get to the draft before we focus on the Super Bowl,” Goodell said, adding that owners may award future Super Bowls before the end of the 2020 calendar year.