NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spent Tuesday morning at Redskins Park, visiting with players, coaches, club executives and team owner Daniel M. Snyder and answering questions about the league's labor future amid an uncertain economic climate.
Goodell addressed the players and then went out to watch part of practice before departing for a lunch meeting with NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith in Washington, D.C. The collective bargaining agreement with the players expires after the 2010 season and Goodell was asked about Smith's contention that the owners plan to lock out the players in 2011.
"I think everybody in the NFL wants to play. The owners want to play, the players want to play and it's our job to get a deal. That's why I keep saying a lockout is not a strategy or an objective," Goodell said. "What we want to do is get an agreement that works for the players and the coaches and the game and allows us to continue to grow it."
The NFL endured a 57-day strike in 1982, resulting in a nine-game season. In 1987, players went out on strike for three weeks, one game was canceled and three more were played with "replacement players." The regulars then returned amid a spate of lawsuits. A settlement took effect in 1993, bringing the players real free agency and the teams a salary cap to contain costs.
In the absence of any deal by March, the NFL would lose the salary cap, removing both the ceiling and floor on pay. Players would need six years of service instead of the current four to qualify as unrestricted free agents.
Hard times for consumers of the NFL product and its sponsors and partners continue, Goodell said. The Redskins will play Thursday night in Jacksonville against the Jaguars with way too many good seats still available; the Jaguars have said they expect every home game this season to be blacked out on local television due to their inability to sell out 72 hours before kickoff.
Goodell said the Jacksonville situation resulted from a couple of problems, not the least of which was the two home preseason games. He would like to see the preseason schedule reduced by one or two games and the regular season bumped up by a corresponding number.
"We've always said we're not immune from the economy. And I think it reflects to two things with what you're seeing in Jacksonville. One is the quality of the preseason games. I think our fans are sort of seeing that the quality of the games is not up to NFL standards, so I think that's a factor," Goodell said. "Additonally, they are going to be challenged as one of the markets where we're seeing some challenges with ticket sales coming into the 2009 season and we'll have other markets that will have those challenges. It's all part of the challenges we're seeing in the economy and what our fans are going through."
An 18-game regular season in the near future, he said, remains "one of the possibilities. We're still looking at it."
Goodell, 50, who succeeded Paul Tagliabue as commissioner in 2006, remains approachable and relaxed and open to interaction with the players. As the Redskins headed for the practice field, rookie Jeremy Jarmon stopped to ask why the NFL puts in rules to protect quarterbacks but does not similarly look out for defensive ends. Jarmon expressed concern about leg whips and getting blocked below the knees.
"That's one of the great things about being able to come out to camp. You get to hear from the players directly about things on their minds. And I mentioned to him that we actually had players who raised this issue with us when they came and met with the competition committee in February, so we are working on it," Goodell said.
Other updates from the commish:
On swine flu: "We've talked about it all off-season," he said. "We have medical committees that are working on it and we sent guidance out to the clubs two months ago. It's an important issue for us, both on the team level but also in our stadiums. We want to make sure that we're responsible and that we know what needs to get done."
On his strict enforcement of codes of conduct: "I think when we developed the personal conduct policy, we did it with players' input. I had met with well over 150 players, worked with (former NFLPA chief) Gene Upshaw to create that policy and it was something that the players really wanted because 'we're good people and a few people are giving us a bad reputation.' "
*Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on Redskins Nation, airing nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, both in the Washington, D.C. area. *