SBD/Issue 238/NFL Season Preview

SI's Peter King, NFL Net's Adam Schefter Talk State Of League

The NFL enters its second season under the direction of Commissioner Roger Goodell after a tumultuous offseason that has centered, more often than not, around player behavior issues. THE DAILY’s Jon Show spoke with SI’s Peter King and NFL Network’s Adam Schefter about some of the key issues facing the league this season. Today we offer part one of the discussion; see tomorrow's issue for part two.

Q: What are the most important issues facing the NFL this season?

Schefter: There was so much focus on player conduct during the offseason that I think that everybody, quite frankly, right now is ready to get onto the football aspect of things. There was so much attention to non-football stories that had some kind of tie into football that I think people have had enough of Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson and Chris Henry and Michael Vick. They just want to watch some games. Aren’t sports supposed to be an escape? Beyond that, the first regular season game being played in London and the NFL is going to make a big effort and a big push to broaden its international reach and scope.

Ditka Looking To Change NFL's
Benefits For Retired Players
King: One of the things is that this is the first year the Patriots have gone hog-wild in veteran player acquisition since they first won a Super Bowl six years ago. They probably had the best offseason in terms of talent acquisitions, probably, of any team since the advent of free agency. ... I think the two other things that are going to be interesting to watch are: 1) How Roger Goodell deals with the retired players. There’s a groundswell of incredibly loyal NFL people: Mike Ditka, Darryl Johnston -- guys who made their living from the NFL and have always been loyal soldiers to everything the NFL does. These guys are coming out saying, ‘Hey, there’s something wrong here.’ I think Roger Goodell is going to try to step in and find a solution for older players and guys who are having trouble. I think it’s imperative on him to do it or the league is going to look like a league that, ‘Hey once we’re done here we basically throw you out with the trash.’ I think that impression is terrible for the NFL and they’ve got to do something about it. The other thing is I think the NFL has been fairly proactive regarding concussions and player head injuries. I think that is going to be a major topic this year. I think we’re going to start to see teams keep guys who are 98% healthy out of games because teams don’t want to risk injuring the guy long term and they don’t want to risk the public damages. There are certainly enough evidence now that there have been players who had severe head injuries that have not had normal post-career lives. And I think it’s something the NFL is very concerned about.

Q: Peter, if you could get your hands on Roger’s priority list, where do you think concussions and disability concerns would rank?

King: Both of them would be in the top five. [But] I think one of the things he has to be concerned with today is the fact that there is a segment of our society who looks at the NFL player as a thug. And I think he is concerned about that very, very much. ... I think what concerns him is that this is our business, and we have to make sure that there is a public trust in our business. When I asked Gene Upshaw about this last year, he said, ‘I went and talked to all the players last year’ -- and I thought this was a very telling and gruff comment from a union leader to his rank and file -- ‘We have a great thing going here. Everybody is making a lot of money, we’re all living very comfortably, and the only ones who can screw it up are you guys.’ That’s what he said to 32 teams last year and I think that right now, even though I don’t think they’re in any danger of screwing it up, I do think that at some point, Miller beer and Ford Motor Co. and Lexus and Budweiser are all going to start saying, ‘Do I want to be advertising with people who kill dogs, go into strip clubs in Las Vegas and get into ruckuses that leave a guy paralyzed.’ This is something that the league is hugely concerned with right now.

Q: Adam, are player conduct issues threatening the NFL brand and its corporate base?

Schefter: I don’t see that now, but if there were a prevalent number of incidents over time I’d say yes. But I think that we’re seeing a commissioner take a hard line stance on these things and that is bringing more attention to them. There have been off-the-field incidents, but in the world that we live in where there is so much coverage of the league on the Internet and TV and magazines and everywhere. There is more attention to this in the offseason because it’s become a 24/7 league. I would venture to tell you there’s always been some of this stuff that’s gone on in the offseason, it’s just that now it’s getting more attention. And a lot of it’s attention that the commissioner has brought to the league because he wants to clean it up.

Writers Believe Vick Situation Unlikely
To Overshadow NFL Season
Q: To what extent will the Michael Vick situation overshadow the season?

King: I think it will (until the season starts). I interviewed three fantasy football players this weekend. One from Massachusetts ...

Schefter: Peter, is that what you’re job is now? You’re interviewing fantasy football players?
King: (laughs) That’s exactly what I’m doing. That’s all I do because that’s all anybody cares about is fantasy football. I interviewed one from Massachusetts, one from Colorado and one from Florida. One of the things I asked them was who is going to take Michael Vick’s place on the Sunday night highlights. And one of the guys said, ‘Listen, the first night of the season when I sit down to watch all the highlights, I’m not going to be thinking about Michael Vick, I’m going to be thinking about the games.’ I think that’s the way fans are. This is not the Wall Street Journal that we’re working for. We’re not covering the (Alberto) Gonzales resignation in the Bush cabinet. This if fun and games, and when it’s time for the games to start, the fans are going to want their detour into fun.

Schefter: This goes back to the initial point that we were talking about on the issue that awaits the NFL this coming season. It’s football; it’s getting back to football.

Q: Assess Roger Goodell’s first year on the job.

Panel Feels Goodell Has Done Excellent
Job In First Year As Commissioner

King: It’s funny, I think he started the year having no idea that by the end of his first year, two of his biggest three problems were going to concern dog fighting and the physical condition of retired players. As he told me, it’s a different thing every day in this job.

Schefter: And the third issue is making it rain!

King: I think he’s done a very good job of grabbing onto this job and not separating himself from Paul Tagliabue in a ‘Tagliabue-wasn’t-doing-the-job’ way. But separating himself in a way that was, ‘I see the biggest problem that we have is retaining public trust in our game. I am not going to let this little slide by people like Pacman Jones and Michael Vick make people not trust this game. So I’m going to act very proactively on this.’ And I think that’s what he’s done. I think he’s had a very good first year.

Schefter: I don’t know how his first year could have been much better. I think that the fans feel like he’s one of them. That he would make a decision that fans would make.

King: Yeah, I was on an elliptical trainer about three weeks ago and these two guys couldn’t stop talking about their fantasy teams and one of them said to the other one, ‘Hey, are you going to draft Vick?’ And the guy said, ‘No, I ain’t taking Vick.’ And he goes, ‘How about the job Goodell has done.’ That shocked me. I think Adam’s right, I think people feel like he is reacting like, ‘Who are these guys to screw up the chance of a lifetime?’

Schefter: Paul Tagliabue did a great, great job, but I think he gave off the feeling that he was above the game. He’s so smart -- and not to say Roger’s not -- but he was detached from it a little bit. You get the feeling that Roger is one of the fans, and you didn’t get that with Paul.

King: They’re different people, but I think Roger is just about as careful in his public pronouncements as Tagliabue was.

Q: Do you think owners are going to opt out of the current CBA in ’09?

Schefter: With those types of things I think you never know exactly how they’re going to go. You heard rattling of the sabers before that it wouldn’t get done, but it did get done. I don’t know if the owners will opt out, or extend it or have a deal waiting in place, but there’s so much money in it now for the players, the owners; the fans like it so much. Forgive me for being naïve and pragmatic and maybe idealistic, but I think that so many people have so much invested in it that they’re not going to let anything get in the way of that.

King: I would agree with you, but I would also argue that bright minds may have to be coerced by first opting out of this deal.

Q: Can the current group of NFL owners come together on revenue sharing?

King: There’s going to have to be some crossover. There’s going to have to be an olive branch to the Ralph Wilsons, because I don’t think right now without some sort of major compromise that the small market teams will go for any sort of revenue sharing plan that is put forth by a Jerry Jones or a Dan Snyder.

Schefter: There is a clear division there of the haves and the have-nots, and there’s going to have to be some sort of common ground where they meet.

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