NEW ORLEANS – Commissioner Roger Goodell used his annual state-of-the-league address to assure that the NFL is doing everything it can to improve player safety and healthy in the game on a number of fronts.
"That is a big priority," Goodell said. "The game is safer, and we have an evolving health and safety culture."
Goodell re-emphasized his belief that stronger penalties must be levied for players who commit illegal hits, especially among repeat offenders. The NFL tried to suspend Ravens S Ed Reed for what the league determined to be repeated violations of the rule prohibiting hits to the heads and necks of defenseless receivers.
"We're going to have to see discipline escalate," he said. "When you're involved in dangerous techniques, we're going to have to take them off the field. Suspensions get through to (players)."
Although the issue has been tabled several times the past few years at the resistence of the NFLPA, Goodell did not rule out the possibility of an 18-game regular-season schedule in the future. He said he believed that reduced offseason programs and practice schedules equated to fresher players later in the season.
"We're always going to reevaluate our season structure," he said. "Do we need four preseason games?
"Fans' reaction to the quality of the preseason is important. We need to (evaluate) that collectively. We'll continue to evaluate that. Every player I've talked to say they feel better this part of the year than they ever have, and that's a result of collective bargaining."
One of the primary missions, Goodell said, in improving player safety was "removing the head from the game" as it relates to better tackling form. The commissioner also mentioned the need to remove dangerous low blocks from the game, such as the one that caused the season-ending knee injury to Texans LB Brian Cushing.
In other league news, Goodell:
- Decried the lack of acceptable results for the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority for vacant head-coaching and GM jobs. "The Rooney Rule has been very effective, but we have to find out what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is," he said. "We want to make sure we have the best people in the best possible situations and give people the opportunity to do that. There were a record number of (minority) interviews, but we didn't get the outcomes we wanted."
- Said that next year's New York Super Bowl – the first to be played outdoors in a cold climate - "absolutely" would be a barometer for future cold-weather Super Bowls. "Undoubtedly, the game next year is going to have an impact on future decisions on going to cold-weather sites," he said. "The community prepared for this. The plans that have been developed for the Super Bowl are extraordinary." He added: "Football is made to be played in elements. Now, we hope they're not extreme, but we'll be prepared for that."
- Hoped that testing players for HGH (human growth hormones), which was agreed in the 2011 CBA but has not been enacted yet, would begin prior to the start of the 2013 season. "It's the right thing to do for the players and it's the right thing to do to send a message to everyone else in sports," he said. "The science is there; we need to get to that agreement."
- Maintained that the Saints' second-round draft pick that was taken away from the team in the wake of the bounty scandal would not be returned to the club. Goodell: "The reason we're not returning any of the draft choices or reversing any of the discipline is because (the bounty) occurred."
- Announced that the two 2013 London regular-season games – 49ers-Jaguars and Steelers-Vikings – are sold out.