NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media at Ravens… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim…)
Roger Goodell brought a message of hope, reassurance and good will to Westminster on Wednesday. Solutions were in short supply for the NFL commissioner, though.
In a 12-minute, 30-second session with reporters at the Ravens' training camp, Goodell spoke of the daunting tasks in front of him: a new collective bargaining agreement to head off a lockout next summer; the raging debate over concussions; and a rookie wage scale that could bring sanity to the draft.
But perhaps the most intriguing and yet dangerous issue on Goodell's plate is pushing through his mandate for an 18-game regular season. Fans will love it. Players will hate it.
"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 [NFL] Players Association."
The response might singe Goodell's ears.
Veteran Ravens receiver Derrick Mason doesn't think the league needs to fix something that isn't broken.
"Goodness, gracious," Mason said after the team's morning workout. "Well, I guess a lot of things would have to change if we had an 18-game schedule. You've got to take into account a lot of things -- injuries, two-a-day [practices], the length of the season, how you would construct it and everything.
"Right now, the game's fine the way it is. Why move it up to 18 games? ÃÂ To try to stretch it out two more games, I don't know if that's a great thing to do."
In a down economy, with revenues falling and player salaries rising, the league is looking for ways to improve the bottom line. The 18-game format, with just two preseason games, is a major component in collective bargaining agreement talks. It is a wedge for the players, who are being asked to make significant givebacks overall.
"I mean, this league's making a lot of money, so, hey," Mason said. "How much financial upside are you going to get? But they're going to make the decision and, hopefully, they'll make an informed decision before they decide whether to add two more games or not."
On a day when humidity and temperature spiked in the 90s, right guard Marshal Yanda could readily see the problem an 18-game season poses.
"They're just going to have to lighten up some of the offseason workouts, as far as how long training camp goes and two-a-days," Yanda said. "You're going to have to be able to play at a high level for 18 games, and that's going to be tough to do.
"The game is about money, and they want two more games of sold-out stadiums, and that's a lot of money. You understand why they're doing it. The economy's tough."
Goodell has talked to enough players already on his cross-country tour of camps, en route to Canton, Ohio, for this weekend's Hall of Fame ceremonies, to get the big picture.
"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?"
With revelations of the damage that trauma to the head produces -- now and into the future -- players are understandably skeptical about a schedule that puts them even more at risk.
The specter of concussions hangs over these negotiations like an anvil. Goodell's three-pronged plan to address that risk lies in rule changes, improved equipment and better awareness.
The answers he gave in a fan forum in the McDaniel College gym after meeting with the media spoke directly to player habits.
"One of the things we're looking at is how to improve equipment," Goodell told a crowd of some 350 fans. "Players are wearing less equipment, and we think that's a huge mistake."
There was more.
"You'd be shocked at the number of guys who wear the same helmet they wore 15 years ago. There is technology for better equipment, and we should be using it," he said.
It will take more than the olive branch Goodell extended when he met privately with players at lunch to get a new CBA. But it was clear Wednesday that he will take the message to as many outposts as possible while there is still football.
Goodell also had this to say during his visit:
On rising ticket prices: "We recognize what our fans and our business partners are going through. 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, and that's what we always are [doing] -- improve the quality, the value."