- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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On Thursday evening, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took some questions from a group of middle and high school football players at a camp in Queens. One of them delicately asked how he could get the job as NFL commissioner.
Goodell laughed and said he hoped that one day the kid would have it.
"I know I'm not going to be around forever, but while I'm here I'm going to do the best I can for the game," Goodell said.
In his fourth year as commissioner, Goodell is changing the way players are disciplined, heading into a capless year in which the NFL vacated the collective bargaining agreement with players and, most recently, spearheading a campaign to increase the number of regular-season games to 18.
"Can we do things differently? I think we have to," Goodell said.
It's not a popular idea among players, who fear that a longer season would increase the risk of injury at a time when they are already physically spent.
"This will be the first time you hear me agree with Tom Brady and say I think it's a bad idea," New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "The season is pretty long as it is. And if you talk about if you get into a playoff run, you have the opportunity to play in up to 22 games. You can look back how beat-up all the players are with their postcareers. You add two more games, I don't really agree with that, and I don't see the benefit for the players or the fans."
Goodell said that other changes might go with a hypothetical longer season, including roster size, rules on injured reserve restrictions and the offseason training program.
"I think we're going to have some guidelines and restrictions on what can be done and what can't be done in the offseason," Goodell said.
Some players see the fact that the league is pushing for the extended season now as part of the back-and-forth between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Both parties are in contentious negotiations to install a new CBA in the spring. Last week the NFLPA contended that the league hadn't been fair in negotiating broadcast revenue, which is the pool from which the players draw their salaries.
"I think everything is leverage right now," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "You know why they want the games, because it's going to increase revenue."
But would the players benefit from the money that could be negotiated from networks for two additional weeks of football and a late-February Super Bowl?
Goodell contended that players were already being paid for the 20 games that make up the NFL preseason and regular season, an idea that doesn't sit well with starters who might sit for three preseason games but certainly would play if those games counted.
"The risk that we take as far as playing regular-season games is considerable," Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said.
"We're constantly trying to improve player safety, player wellness, and we're doing a lot of re right now to find out what are going to be the repercussions to adding two games to the regular season," O'Hara said. "I think everyone knows the injury rate in the NFL is 100 percent."
O'Hara added that for undrafted free agents like himself, the four preseason games are an important proving ground.
Goodell is aware that this proposition isn't popular with many players but said it ultimately would increase the NFL's popularity. Other changes might include a developmental league, possibly one that plays in a different season.
Goodell also said that the league was still gathering information in the case of Vince Young's misdemeanor assault citation for an incident that was recorded on a cell phone last weekend. No discipline had yet been decided on.
"Right now we're just gathering facts," Goodell said.
It's issues like this that have defined Goodell's tenure to this point. One young player asked him what he thought was the most important quality in a man who plays for the NFL. And Goodell didn't hesitate to answer.
"Well to me," Goodell said, "it starts with character."
3hBy Jackie MacMullan
1dEric D. Williams