- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL is holding its annual meeting at the Roosevelt, one of the South's first grand hotels, which opened in 1893 and was a favorite of the late Bob Hope. Golden columns and crystal chandeliers greet visitors in the lobby as a "who's who" of NFL personnel pass through, including New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
It's a throwback setting, which just might be the perfect spot to host arguably the most important two-day league meeting in NFL history. It comes at a time when players have decertified as a union, owners have locked out players and the bickering back and forth has been intense.
For Patriots followers, the biggest New England-based headlines here are expected to come Tuesday morning when Belichick takes part in the league's media breakfast, a setting in which each head coach is assigned a table and reporters gather around for a 75-minute session of all things football.
There have been significant changes since the last time Belichick held court with reporters, one day after the Patriots' crushing playoff loss to the New York Jets in mid-January. Belichick can expect to be asked about issues such as safety Brandon Meriweather's presence at a Feb. 28 shooting, changes on the team's coaching staff, Logan Mankins and the franchise tag and Belichick's recent scouting trip to Florida, among other topics.
Often one to keep a low profile, Belichick has been visible here, walking the streets in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt while enjoying the 70-degree weather that is unlikely to be visiting the Northeast for several weeks.
While Belichick has been out and about, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is staying behind because of what the team said is a "private family medical matter." That news resonated with Giants co-owner John Mara, who cited Kraft's influence and said his presence will be missed because "he's somebody when he gets up to speak, people listen to." Team president Jonathan Kraft, who regularly attends NFL meetings, is scheduled to arrive in town later on Sunday, in time for the official start of the meeting Monday morning.
The labor issues figure to dominate the discussion, but that's not all that is scheduled to unfold. Owners will vote on rule changes, the most notable coming on moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line. Safety concerns are the primary reason the NFL's Competition Committee is recommending the change, and that official vote could come as early as Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to address reporters on Monday and Tuesday, and it's also possible that media members will be part of a law briefing, as well as a discussion with doctors on some of the hot-button medical issues in the game.
One change from years past is that the NFL is not expected to announce compensatory draft choices, according to a league spokesman. Compensatory picks is an area in which the Patriots usually show up on the radar. Also, there are not expected to be any announcements on the schedule for Kickoff Weekend, the spokesman said. Those will both have to wait a few weeks, although NFL staffers stressed that everything was "business as usual" despite the dark labor clouds hovering over the proceedings.
Still, the mood seemed generally upbeat over the course of the day. Personable Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, of Newton, Mass., was happy to chat about his favorite hometown baseball team, the Boston Red Sox; San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith reinforced what many analysts have noted about the 2011 draft -- it's especially deep along the defensive line and at offensive tackle; and on the more serious side, Mara, the Giants' co-owner, shared his thoughts on the labor issues.
That probably best captures the atmosphere as personnel from all 32 teams arrived here Sunday -- some light-hearted banter, some hard-core football talk and also the can't-be-overlooked business-based labor chatter.
It's all going down here at the Roosevelt, the historic hotel that recently underwent a $145 million renovation aimed at preserving its historic roots while adding modern amenities.
Some might say it's a fitting locale to host a league meeting at this defining time for the NFL.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
The Roosevelt sets the tone for critical NFL annual meeting.