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Goodell: No final decision on lockout

By Mark Maske

DALLAS--NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said here Friday the sport's franchise owners have not made a final decision about whether they will lock out players if the league and union don't agree to an extension of their labor agreement by the time the current deal expires early next month.

"We have not made any determinations of what will happen on March 4," Goodell said at his annual state-of-the-league news conference. "The ownership is completely focused on getting an agreement that works and is fair to the players and the clubs. That's their focus right now. They are prepared for every outcome, as they should be. That is only smart negotiations, and I assume the union is doing the same. We have to focus on making sure we get an agreement that works for everyone.

"At that point in time, if we are not successful in getting an agreement, I'm sure a lot of steps are going to be taken, which is why the window of opportunity is in the next few weeks to get an agreement that works for everybody."

Players and union officials have said they expect the players to be locked out soon after the current deal expires.

But the players also could decertify the union, a move that would create the possibility of the players filing an antitrust lawsuit against the owners. Experts have said decertification of the union by the players could dissuade the owners from a lockout because a lockout under those conditions potentially could be cited in any antitrust litigation filed by the players.

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said during the union's annual news conference Thursday that the union will be decertified if it's determined that's in the players' best interests.

Goodell said Friday: "I frequently said that I think that March 4 is a very critical date because, again, a lot of different strategies will take place if we're not successful in getting an agreement by that time. We need to have intensive, round-the-clock negotiations to address the issues and find solutions. If we're committed to doing that, I think we can be successful. But we have to demonstrate that commitment and get to work."

Representatives of the owners and players are scheduled to meet Saturday in the Dallas area for their first full bargaining session since November. The sport has not had a work stoppage since a strike by the players in 1987, and Goodell said he's aware that an interruption in play now could alienate fans.

"I think they care about just getting an agreement," Goodell said. "They don't care about the details. They just want to make sure that their football is going to appear on Sundays and Mondays and Thursdays. They want to make sure they have the great game they love. That's our responsibility, and I don't think anyone is going to feel sorry for any one of us--including yours truly--if we're not successful at doing that."

Goodell has pledged to reduce his annual salary to $1 for the duration of any work stoppage.

"I don't want my salary to go to a dollar," he said Friday. "My wife doesn't want my salary to go to a dollar."

The owners' proposal to increase the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team is not a deal-breaker in the negotiations, Goodell said.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank expressed similar sentiments about the 18-game proposal.

"The owners are not committed to one or the other," Blank said. "The owners are committed to getting a deal done."

One agent who represents NFL players confirmed reports that there have been discussions between agents and union representatives about the possibility of draft-eligible players boycotting the scouting combine later this month in Indianapolis and refusing to attend the draft in April in New York.

The draft will take place even if there is a lockout because the current labor deal contains a provision for it to be held.

However, the agent said he believes it's unlikely that players will boycott the combine because those players are yet to be drafted and technically are not members of the union, and potentially could hurt their own draft status. Also, the scouting combine takes place before the expiration of the current labor deal.

The draft presumably would proceed relatively unaffected even if players aren't on hand in New York for the proceedings.

The agent spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said he was not authorized to discuss the deliberations publicly.

Goodell praised the local response to the snowstorm that struck the Dallas area Thursday night and early Friday, and said he doesn't expect the bad weather here this week to significantly impact future votes by the owners about Super Bowl sites.

"This is a storm that is impacting most of our country," Goodell said. "There are very few places that aren't dealing with the after-effects of this storm. It's an extraordinarily rare storm. It's something that this community has responded well to. When we chose to play in climates where this is more likely to happen, they are very capable of dealing with these types of issues and we have been very comfortable playing there. We've played in Detroit. We've played in Minnesota. We'll be playing in Indianapolis next year. I think people in those communities recognize the preparation that is necessary, and we'll be in that position."

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said before Goodell's news conference: "When I woke up this morning and my wife Myra saw the six inches of snow, she said, 'Maybe we could have a game in New England.' Myra said, 'How come we don't consider a Super Bowl in New England?'... But this won't affect my vote."

Kraft also said: "It's unfortunate with the weather. But this is a great place. I'd vote to have it here again."

On other topics, Goodell said he expects players to be required to wear hip and knee pads during games beginning next season. He defended the league's enforcement crackdown this season on illegal hits to the head. Players, including several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, have complained that the league's enforcement of illegal hits was inconsistent. Such complaints by Steelers players persisted this week even as they prepared for Sunday's Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers at Cowboys Stadium.

"The rules apply to 32 teams and every player in the league, no exceptions," Goodell said. "I'm the commissioner for the entire league, for 32 teams. Everyone's going to play by the same rules. We will work harder to make sure they understand the appropriate techniques, and I think people have adjusted. If you look at the game this year, they adjusted. The players adjusted. The teams adjusted. And the game of football was extraordinary, and it was safer."

Goodell also defended the league's rule requiring that each team with a head coaching vacancy interview at least one minority candidate. The rule commonly is called the Rooney Rule after Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the former chairman of the league's workplace diversity committee.

"Anything can be improved [but] I think that the Rooney Rule has been extraordinarily successful," Goodell said.

By Mark Maske  |  February 4, 2011; 8:42 PM ET  | Category:  League , Union Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Players' side considers possible decertification of union | Next: Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey to miss Super Bowl

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