Q: What did you discuss with the players? When Commissioner Tagliabue last visited, he gave them somewhat of a pep talk and stressed to the players they had the opportunity to win a Super Bowl if they came together.
RG: I wouldn’t describe it as a pep talk. I would describe it as a discussion about their responsibilities as NFL players, what we expect of them as players, some of the key issues we’re facing as a league. Then they asked questions. They asked a lot of questions, and many were excellent questions, very intelligent questions.
Q: In terms of your own job responsibilities, how challenging is the player conduct aspect? How do you go about evaluating each case?
RG: It is complex because you want to look at each case individually, but you also want to be consistent. This is one of the questions the players asked me today. You have to look at all the incidents, but what we are really focused on is repeat behavior. When you have repeat behavior and circumstances around that, eventually the player has to be accountable and responsible for that. If a player is on the edge of things, he’s got to change his behavior. That’s the reality of being in this business. It’s what comes with being an NFL player. It comes with being involved in the NFL, and it’s what I think our fans expect. They have a right to expect it. I think the players understand that.
Q: The Bengals are one of the teams who have yet to sign their first-round pick. With the CBA issues the league is facing, is there still an opportunity to address a rookie pay scale?
RG: It has to be collectively bargained. It’s an issue that we will clearly be addressing. Whether we come to an agreement on that could be subject to the broader agreement. I think it’s clear that we have an issue here. Something is wrong with the system, flawed with the system, and we have to address it. I think it’s better for the players. I think it’s better for the teams. Most importantly, it’s better for the fans. I think it’s a disservice when players are not in camp and being paid properly.
Q: What are your thoughts on Eddie DeBartolo’s candidacy to get back in the league as an owner?
RG: I hadn’t heard there was a candidacy.
Q: He’s talked about possibly wanting to get back in. I wondered if there’s anything in your mind that might prevent him from getting back in?
RG: I haven’t given any consideration to that. I was with Eddie last night. He is the presenter for Fred Dean at the Hall of Fame and we did not have any conversations along those lines.
Q: Would the league have any reservations about allowing him back in?
RG: We’d have to address that if and when it became a factor.
Q: Back to the rookie salary cap. What’s been your reaction from the players on this issue?
RG: Every player has a different opinion. I think the players recognize the system is flawed and needs to be adjusted. I think their interest is to be paid properly. They’d like to see that if money is going to be saved by not paying rookies as much that it would go to other players. I respect that, and I understand that. That’s something that we are certainly willing to talk about. My issue is that it’s having economic consequences, and this is affecting all players in the league, I think, in a negative fashion.\
It also has some non-economic issues as it relates to how the locker room operates. Veteran leadership probably suffers when you have rookies being paid more than veterans. They feel more uncomfortable about asserting their leadership than I think they should in a locker room. So there are some non-economic issues, too.
Q: In regards to the conduct policy, are there specific rules or guidelines regarding the reinstatement process for a suspended player?
RG: There is. The personal conduct policy is quite specific on what the policy covers and what the consequences are. Ultimately, it’s my decision after a process of hearings. When I issue the discipline, I’m usually quite clear about what the reinstatement process is, assuming that certain things are managed the way we would expect them to be managed and consistent with the standard we hold NFL players to.
Q: So when a player is suspended, you give him the specific guidelines of what he needs to do to be reinstated?
Q: You say a lot of that is on the players, but also on the teams. Where are you at in terms of disciplining teams with multiple offenders (taking away a draft pick, etc.)?
RG: As of yesterday, any time a player is suspended, there is a financial consequence to that team. So they are working hard to avoid those issues. They are providing the resources and the counseling to hopefully allow players to make good decisions. But at some point in time, if you have a suspension, there is a financial consequence to that team.
Q: Can you say specifically what that consequence will be?
RG: It depends on the length of the suspension and how much that individual is being paid. It’s a portion of that individual’s compensation while he is suspended. It also depends on how many players have had incidents and the types of things the clubs do to support players on a regular basis.
Q: Are loss of draft picks also a possibility?
RG: It’s a possibility, but that will not be the first consequence, or probably even the second or third.
Q: Do you envision an uncapped year in 2010?
RG: Right now that’s the way the system is until we can get a collective bargaining agreement that makes sense for both the players and the owners. That could be the circumstance, yes.
Q: Do you anticipate ever expanding the roster limit above the 80-player limit?
RG: We look at that every year. That’s something we evaluate on a regular basis. So far, I have not heard negative consequences to the 80-person roster, but that’s something we’ll evaluate at the end of the year and make a determination. Too little? Too much? We’ll make a determination from there. I have not heard of any tremendous consequences from that to date.
Q: How do you feel about the Bengals’ chances in 2008?
RG: I don’t make predictions on teams, I can assure you. That wouldn’t be my place.
Q: What about the possibility of shortening the preseason or adding regular season games?
RG: Right now we work on a 20-game season: four preseason games and 16 regular-season games. I’ve been quite clear publicly and with our membership that I think the quality of the preseason is not up to NFL standards and that we should address that. We’re actively evaluating and considering whether we should make it 17 regular-season and three preseason games, as one example. I think it’s a better reflection on the quality of our game.
Q: What about an 18-and-two scenario?
RG: It could be considered. There are a lot of ramifications that come when you switch that ratio. You do it cautiously and see what those ramifications are. So I would probably start at 17-3. I wouldn’t personally rule out 18-2 because that is a membership decision ultimately. There are some who believe 18-2 is the right scenario.
Q: When talking about these scenarios, do you worry at all about the post-Labor Day start to the season, or the Super Bowl running deeper into February?
RG: I think we actually find a longer season to be attractive. Having football start after Labor Day is a positive. I think that’s when it really gets into high gear. I think that is positive for us. We’ve actually made accommodations with our Super Bowl dates that we can move them later in the year. I think that is something that is attractive to us. We’ve talked about concepts that if you shorten the preseason, maybe you take two weeks between the final preseason game and first regular-season game. I think we do like the idea of two weeks between the championship games and Super Bowl. We’d try to maintain that.
Q: What other issues do you foresee coming up?
RG: We always start with how we can keep the game strong. That goes along with the preseason versus regular season discussion. We need to make sure we keep putting the best product on the field, making sure the quality of our game remains strong and continues to get stronger and more attractive for our fans. That’s the No. 1 issue.
The second issue is that we have a labor agreement that works for the players and the ownership, that we have an economic system that internally allows every team to be successful, and that includes revenue sharing.
And the final issue is, how do we continue to evolve in the current media landscape? It’s a changing media landscape as all of you know. We are evaluating that, figuring out how we can continue to be successful on a broadcast basis, but there are new media alternatives that we want to be involved in that we think can supplement that broadcast audience. We’re spending an awful lot of time on that. The NFL Network is an important part of that strategy as well as NFL.com. We need to deliver that content over telephones and other devices that people are consuming media on now.
Q: Do you envision more games being played overseas in Europe and beyond?
RG: We’re going to continue to follow success. So far the international regular-season games have been a tremendous success. I think we’re limited on the number of games we can play overseas because we are taking those away from fans here in the United States, and we’re sensitive to that. That also may be one other attractive aspect to increasing the number of regular-season games. That could allow you to take additional games overseas. We are getting a tremendous reaction, and it’s a great way to grow the game. We think that is intelligent for the players and the NFL.
Q: What did you talk about with the players when you had lunch with them?
RG: Dhani Jones had a whole page of notes and questions. They were very intelligent questions. We talked about the safety of the game, not much about the labor agreement, other than the fact there were issues we needed to address. We talked about other issues that we probably don’t have an opportunity to discuss often, and they were very forthcoming. They had good questions and good comments for me. I learned a lot.
Q: Did player conduct come up?
RG: Yes. We talked about it. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was there, and he was one of the original players that Gene Upshaw and I met with in February of 2007 to start structuring a new player conduct policy. I’ve told you guys the story. The players were a big part of restructuring our personal conduct policy. Frankly, it would not be as successful without them. They had tremendous input. I think they are critical in keeping it successful as we go forward.
Q: How are you picking the teams to participate in the international games?
RG: That was an exact question one of the players asked me. You do it on a number of issues. First of all, we have a rotation. We cannot ask a team to go more than once during this five-year period unless they volunteer to do it. We are sensitive to ask them to go where it either becomes a competitive disadvantage, or we frankly take too many games from a particular team. There’s a formula for making sure we don’t overstay our welcome, to put it that way. The second issue is you try to rotate teams that are exciting and would create some interest in the international market.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about coming to camp?
RG: Talking football is probably the best thing. I think that’s what we’re in this business for. Unfortunately, a lot of my time is taken away from that. But being able to sit with players and hear from them, understanding what is happening in the game, issues that we should be considering as it relates to the game, knowing what’s on their minds is very helpful to me. That also goes for club management. We fortunately have more opportunity to speak, more opportunity to meet, and I find all of those interactions very helpful.
Q: Does the league have any interest or ideas in how to evolve the Hall of Fame selection process?
RG: As you know, that’s an issue the media makes a selection on. We don’t. I was at the Hall of Fame all day yesterday and at a board meeting that issue did come up. The members of the Hall of Fame raised it and also at the board level we raised it, and we’re going to try to address that in a way that is responsible. Should we be seeking a broader input? We will, but there’s no answer to that right now and hopefully we’ll do some analysis on it.
One of the things that makes the Hall great though is that it is the elite of the elite. You always have players that you think belong in the Hall, but that is one of the things that makes it so unique. When you become a member of that club, you have truly risen to a level that other players don’t rise to. That’s a great reflection of what they do both on and off of the field. They are men to be proud of. These men have contributed an awful lot to the game and it is one of the reasons we did the rookie program this year.
If you’re not familiar with that, every club has had their rookies go through the Hall of Fame this spring. The idea was two-fold. One, provide inspiration, which was obvious. This is what and where you should aspire to be at the end of your playing career. The second was to give them perspective, perspective about the men who came before them, coaches, players and owners that made this game great. Michael Irvin was the one who gave me that idea last year. He said, “If I had seen the tradition, the history of what made this game great when I came into the league, it would’ve had a huge impact on me.”
I think this program is going to be quite successful because it is giving those players perspective. I’m going to be with the rookies of the Redskins over there this afternoon. I’ll be able to get a first-hand look at their reaction, the questions they ask and what effect it has on them. We may not be able to judge this for several years, frankly.
RE: The 15-day rule of reporting to training camp before your first preseason game.
RG: It definitely can get looked at. It is an issue that is in part collectively bargained, and there are competitive issues, internal issues from an NFL standpoint. The whole evaluation of the preseason, but also the offseason, is something we want to go through. Have we been overly aggressive in the offseason of what we ask of the players? That is something we have to balance and that is one of the questions I asked the players today.
Q: Is it worth conducting a study of player injuries?
RG: Sure, but the reality is that there are so many factors that go into NFL injuries. To be able to isolate that it is because of offseason training; in fact, I might be able to argue that offseason training allowing them to be in better shape is a plus. Obviously there are diminishing returns at some point in time. You can overdo that also. I think the balance is what we try to find and, quite frankly, I’m not sure there is an answer across the board. We have great professionals on the club level that make those decisions, medical personnel, trainers, coaches, they all have to balance those issues. We do look very closely at injuries, but as I said many factors go into that.
Training camp has changed a lot. We are obviously much more aware of certain things. We do everything we can to make sure it is a safe environment.
Q: Do teams need more preseason game to get ready?
RG: No, it is my opinion that they need fewer.
Q: Has taking the role of commissioner been different than you thought it might be?
RG: Sure. Any time you go into a new job there are going to be challenges. I can’t tell you that I’ve expected all of the challenges that I’ve had, and I’ve been in the league for 25 years. I thought I had seen most everything, but there were some things that have been different. I sat in the office next to Paul Tagliabue for the last six years and there is a difference when you’re commissioner. You have an awesome responsibility to the game. That is something you feel every day, and you feel it every night. You wake up at night and you think about it. It is an awesome responsibility and I take it seriously.
Q: Why were you involved in the Brett Favre situation in Green Bay?
RG: There are rights here that have to be respected. Obviously the rights of the Green Bay Packers, they hold the rights to Brett Favre and that has to be respected. At the same time, Brett Favre has rights. If he would like to play football again, he should have the right to do that. You need to balance those two. Then, you have 31 other clubs that have an interest or rights here. You have to balance all of these issues. I’m not trying to interject myself; in fact, I was interjected into it because there was a tampering charge initially. I’m not looking for things to interject myself into. It is obviously an issue that needs to be addressed. Because of the competing interests you want to make sure it is done properly and within our rules, but this is an issue ultimately that has to be decided between Brett and the Packers.
Q: What is the latest you have heard on any potential resolution between the two parties?
RG: They have had productive discussions. I had brief conversations with both sides this morning and I expect to have them again when I leave here.
Q: Do you have the reinstatement papers on you just in case?
RG: No. I can do that from the road.
Q: Did the league find there to be illicit communications between Brett and the Vikings and if so, will there be a penalty?
RG: No, we have not made any ruling with respect to the Packers and the Vikings tampering charges. That is something we are completing our investigation on. I assume we will be done relatively quickly here. We want to be thorough but I would expect we’ll have a decision sometime soon. Greg would know better than I about any comments we’ve made publicly but I don’t believe we have made any public comments about any findings at this stage.
It is a serious issue. Tampering is a serious charge, and as you pointed out we had a violation of that rule earlier this year, and we take it seriously. If it can be proven, we will act on it. We’ve made it very clear to the clubs this spring. In fact we’ve had, as some would call it, to some extent a lowering of the standard as it relates to proof of a tampering charge