TEMPE, Ariz. -- The following is the pool report from the New England Patriots' practice on Friday, via reporter Jarrett Bell:

The New England Patriots concluded their practice preparations for Super Bowl XLIX on Friday, with coach Bill Belichick sensing that his team had accomplished its mission with three practices at the Arizona Cardinals' training facility.

Belichick has determined that he will cancel plans to conduct a walk-through session on Saturday.

“We’re just going to meet, take a team picture,” Belichick said of the Saturday itinerary after putting his team through a light, soggy practice on Friday.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Patriots practiced in the rain Friday before deciding to cancel their Saturday walkthrough.
“This is it,” Belichick added. “Practice-wise, we’re done. We’re as ready as we’re going to be.”

It won’t mark the first time the Patriots don't have a walk-through on the day before the Super Bowl. That was also the case before their last Super Bowl appearance, four years ago in Indianapolis.

“We’ll just meet in the morning, take the team picture and that’s it,” Belichick said.

The meetings and picture will take place at the team’s hotel in Chandler.

Despite intermittent rain showers, Belichick had the Patriots practice outdoors for about an hour -- excluding a 28-minute “halftime” break -- rather than move the session to an indoor bubble.

“I thought about going inside,” Belichick said, “but not for long.”

In Belichick’s mind, the wet weather in typically dry Arizona provided a bonus of increasing difficulty.

“Make it tougher in practice than it will be in the game,” Belichick said.

One key player, though, caught a break. All-pro cornerback Darrelle Revis watched the bulk of team drills from the sideline, which Belichick said was not due to an injury.

“We backed a lot of guys off,” Belichick said. “He took a lot of reps yesterday and Wednesday.”

Asked if there are any injury concerns that have popped up, Belichick responded, “No. We’re all good to go.”

The Patriots devoted significant time on the kicking game with half-speed, noncontact reps on Friday. As on the previous days this week, the team ran a fair number of plays with the offensive and defensive units working in a variety of situations against scout teams.

As was the case all week, Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft was joined by a couple of his sons and grandsons at practice, including Patriots president Jonathan Kraft and Dan Kraft.

About halfway through the practice, the players left the field and returned to the locker room. They returned about a half-hour later, which mimicked the extended, 28-minute halftime during the Super Bowl that is more than twice as long as the typical 12-minute NFL halftime.

“We’ve done it before,” Belichick said of the simulation.

Belichick said he’s pleased by his team’s mental state as the Super Bowl looms.

“These guys have worked hard,” he said. “I think they’re ready to go. We’re playing a good team, so we’re going to have to play well.”

Final preparations before Sunday will include settling on the script of plays for the offense.

“We’ve talked about a lot of things over the course of the week,” Belichick said. “Now we’ve got to boil it down to the most important thing -- the plays that we’re going to start the game with, the way we want to start the game, so they can really focus on that. We’ve got a lot of plays in the game plan. But we can only call so many to start the game. So it’s, ‘Here’s the ones we’re going to call. Let’s see if we can get them right.’”
PHOENIX -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's absence from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's annual Super Bowl news conference was noted in this space, in part because Kraft publicly expressed his displeasure with the league's handling of the investigation into underinflated footballs as it relates to leaks in the media. Kraft is usually in attendance at Goodell's news conference.

I've learned more about Kraft's absence.

Kraft decided to stay back with the Patriots, who had a team meeting scheduled at that time Friday. Kraft also went to practice after the team meeting.

Kraft's decision to forgo Goodell's news conference reflects how he is approaching this Super Bowl experience, looking to maximize the time with his players and coaches.
PHOENIX -- Moments after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell completed his annual Super Bowl press conference, ESPN analyst Bill Polian cut to a crucial flaw in the presentation.

"Everyone wanted to hear about domestic violence," Polian said. "Everyone wanted to hear about Deflategate. Everyone wanted to hear about the major issues that have affected the league outside of the normal realm of the game. And he led off with the extra point!"

Indeed, Goodell mentioned the ongoing discussion about the length and difficulty of extra points before referencing any specifics about an ongoing investigation into the integrity of the AFC Championship Game. We have plenty of coverage on what Goodell did say about the New England Patriots' deflation issue, so let's consider his ill-placed but still notable remarks on other issues -- starting with the basic definition of a "conflict of interest."

1. Perception vs. reality

Goodell bristled at two questions in particular.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell
Cliff Hawkins/Getty ImagesRoger Goodell hit on many key points during his press conference on Friday, but the timing of some of them was a bit curious.
One referenced the league's hiring of outside attorneys it pays to provide independent investigations. (Former FBI director Robert Mueller, who investigated the league's response to the Ray Rice domestic violence matter, worked at the same law firm as Baltimore Ravens president Dick Cass.) The other question referred to his attendance at a party hosted by Patriots owner Robert Kraft the night before the AFC Championship Game shenanigans.

Goodell's response was, in essence, that no conflict of interest existed because the people involved all have "uncompromising integrity." That might be true, but that isn't the full point of a conflict of interest. It's not simply whether impropriety occurred as a result of an interconnected relationship. It's whether the relationship creates the perception that an impropriety could occur.

Did Mueller take it easy on the NFL given his firm's relationship with Cass? Will investigator Ted Wells exonerate the Patriots because Goodell partied with Kraft a couple weeks ago? Unlikely. Is it possible to conceive? Of course.

No matter what might or might not have happened, Goodell would be well served to step away from anything that could provide even the appearance of a conflict. His defiance remains a hurdle in publicly moving past the issues of this season.

2. That troublesome extra point

Goodell: "Fans want every play to have suspense. But the extra point has become virtually automatic. We have experimented with alternatives to make it a more competitive play and we expect to advance these ideas through the competition committee this offseason."

Seifert: NFL place-kickers converted 99.3 percent of their extra-point attempts in 2014 (1,222 of 1,230), a year after hitting 99.6 percent. The league experimented by moving the kick back to 33 yards during the preseason and then narrowed the goal posts for the Pro Bowl. It seems likely the league will push some form of a change through its competition committee in the coming months.

3. Expanded playoffs

Goodell: "The possibility of expanding the playoffs has also been a topic of discussion for a number of years. There are positives to it, but there are concerns as well, among them being the risk of diluting the regular season and conflicting with college football in January."

Seifert: This change has seemed certain for the better part of a year, and Goodell said recently he expected a vote during the league's owners meeting in March. The "concerns" Goodell mentioned Friday represented at least a tapping of the brakes. A cynic would say Goodell was acknowledging objections simply to placate outnumbered opponents.

4. Officiating changes

Goodell: "We are looking at other ways to advance replay and officiating. That includes potentially expanding replay to penalties if it can be done without more disruption to the face of the game. We are discussing rotating members of the officiating crews during the season as a way to improve consistency throughout our regular season and benefit our crews in the postseason."

Seifert: Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Thursday that multiple teams have already submitted proposals to expand replay in various ways. It seems unlikely the league will allow all plays to be reviewed, as the Patriots proposed last year, but a slower expansion is a realistic possibility.

Rotating officials, meanwhile, might help dissipate the penalty disparities among crews that we have documented for the past two seasons. It would also devalue the chemistry and familiarity that season-long crews develop.

5. Over-the-top telecast

Goodell: "We are aggressively pursuing the streaming of a regular-season game with our first over-the-top telecast. It would be carried on broadcast stations in both team markets, but also reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that don't have traditional television service."

Seifert: At the moment, this is a win-win for everyone. All games would remain available over-the-air while the NFL and its chosen partner experiment with streaming. Some day, of course, the NFL could offer some games exclusively via streaming, most likely at a cost to consumers.
PHOENIX -- New England Patriots starting center Bryan Stork, who injured his right knee in the divisional-round win over the Baltimore Ravens, is officially listed as questionable for Super Bowl XLIX.

A questionable designation gives a player a 50-50 chance to play.

Stork is the only player whose status is at that level. Defensive end Akeem Ayers (knee), quarterback Tom Brady (ankle), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), defensive tackle Chris Jones (elbow) and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (foot) are listed as probable. A probable designation reflects a virtual certainty that the player will be available.

One other note from the Patriots' participation report Friday: Cornerback Darrelle Revis was limited for non-injury reasons, with rest in mind.
PHOENIX -- If Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch goes rogue on Sunday in the Super Bowl and decides do another lewd gesture after a touchdown, some good could come out it.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter learned that underwear brand MeUndies.com has agreed to match Lynch’s fines in the Super Bowl by donating to his Fam 1st Family Foundation, which is dedicated to mentoring children on the importance of education, literacy, and self-esteem.

Only one problem. NFL officials informed the Seahawks they will receive 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff if Lynch does an obscene gesture. That makes it unlikely Lynch will do his gesture in the game, and it leaves uncertainty about whether he would be fined.

Nevertheless, MeUndies has agreed to donate $20,000 to Fam 1st Family Foundation for Lynch’s most recent fine, and an additional $20,000 (up to $100,000) for every touchdown he scores during the Super Bowl to cover any fines incurred as a result of Lynch expressing himself freely.

This is Lynch’s third marketing deal this week, to go along with Skittles and Progressive.

"Marshawn is under scrutiny for a pain we've all felt, and we stepped in to help Beast Mode with great fitting, non-riding underwear," the company said in a statement. "MeUndies empowers people to express themselves freely in the midst of any situation, and eliminates the need to readjust down there."

MeUndies said it wants Lynch to focus on preparing for the Super Bowl and not have to worry about expressing himself.
PHOENIX -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked if he will stop taking photos with team owners in light of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman saying it was a conflict of interest for Goodell to be pictured with the New England Patriots' Robert Kraft two weeks ago.

"No I won't," Goodell said Friday. "I was at the Krafts' residence along with season-ticket holders, sponsors and media partners the night before as part of an AFC Championship party. That's part of what we do. I was there to participate in a program with our partner, CBS, taking questions from the audience. It's something that I do on a regular basis, so that's not unusual."

When the Seahawks arrived in Arizona, Sherman was asked if he thought the Patriots would be punished for "Deflategate."

"Probably not," Sherman said. "Not as long as Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell are still taking pictures at their respective homes. You talk about conflict of interest. As long as that happens, it won't affect them at all. Nothing will stop them."

Goodell said his relationship with Kraft will not have any bearing on the investigation over the issues with deflated footballs stemming from the Patriots' win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game.

"It's not unusual that I work very closely with ownership," Goodell said, "particularly someone like Robert Kraft who serves on multiple committees. The broadcast committee, we spend an awful lot of time on that. He's on the finance committee. He works on several important league initiatives.

"So professionally I have a relationship with him. I also admire, respect and think very highly of him on a personal level. There is no hiding from that standpoint. But since he knows me so well, he knows I am not going to do anything to compromise the integrity of the league. I think he has no doubt I will do the right thing for the NFL."

Goodell also commented on Sherman saying NFL executives should have to talk to the media every week if they are going to make Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and the other players do so.

"I understand the obligation in my job to meet with the media," Goodell said. "I don't know whether I meet with them in a press conference every week, but I'm available to the media almost every day of my job. We try to make ourselves available on a very regular basis. It's my responsibility and my job and I will do that."
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank took a few moments to address a variety of topics during a phone interview with ESPN.com on Friday.

First and foremost, Blank discussed the process of the coaching search, which is just about complete. The Falcons are expected to introduce Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as the next coach as early as Tuesday, with Quinn set to coach in Sunday's Super Bowl. The Falcons cannot sign Quinn to a contract or introduce him as the new coach until the Seahawks complete their season.

[+] EnlargeArthur Blank
AP Photo/Tim IrelandAtlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has restructured the team's front-office structure.
"What's different this time around is we ended up with one or more coaching candidates that are going to be playing on Sunday," Blank said. "That by itself and the NFL rules, which I agree with, are very specific. ... Certainly it's a lot more challenging. The patience of our organization was certainly really tested. But we felt we needed to make the right long-term decision, not the right short-term decision."

Blank was asked if he decided at some point during the process that a defensive-minded coach would be the best fit moving forward.

"No," Blank responded. "It's not about offense or defense. You're really hiring a CEO for a football team and a leader who can hire the best coordinators and position coaches. Whatever side of the ball, you expect the head coach to be the head coach of the offense and the defense and the special teams. And that was one of our goals. Whatever history he may have had was interesting, but not something that affected the process."

Blank was asked how much power the new coach would have over the 53-man roster.

"I don't like the word power," he said. "I don't like to use it personally. I don't like to use it professionally. What we want to build is an organization that depends on partnership and collaboration. And I think the head coach candidate that was selected is a firm believer in that and has demonstrated that over a long period of time.

"If you look at the most successful franchises -- these two that are playing Sunday (New England and Seattle) and others in the history of the NFL -- you'll see a tremendous amount of closeness, collaboration and partnership between personnel and coaching. And when the draft pick is made, the team is taking the name off the board. When there's a free-agent signing, then the team is signing that player."

Speaking of power, the Falcons did some front-office restructuring earlier in the month, taking away general manager Thomas Dimitroff's responsibilities related to the draft and free agency and putting the onus on assistant general manager Scott Pioli in those areas. From the outside look in, it looks like Blank lost some confidence in Dimitroff's ability to evaluate talent.

"Absolutely not," Blank said when asked if he lost confidence in Dimitroff. "I think it's an opportunity for Thomas to continue to use his talents, and he will from a talent-evaluation standpoint. He'll be heavily involved. But he'll be more dependent on Scott Pioli and his talents. And their ability to work together is a credit to both of them. Now, they've each worked for each other, which is unique in an organization.

"Again, I think the word power is not appropriate. We have two people with extraordinary backgrounds in personnel. Scott, in my opinion, was underutilized in his first year with us. He's got a rich background from New England. And draft-wise, he got very high grades from Kansas City, although he's obviously not there. And Thomas was named executive of the year twice in the NFL. It's clearly a matter of how do we maximize the talent that we have in the building and take advantage of the best resources that we have to produce the best product we can. I think this alignment allows Thomas to still be heavily involved, where he should be, but it allows Scott to run the draft process or the free-agency process. And obviously, they're both dealing with the new head coach."

Dimitroff and the new coach will report separately to Blank. Pioli will report to Dimitroff.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're just over 48 hours from the kickoff of Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, which means the festivities leading up to Sunday's game are in their final days. For the cities that will host Super Bowls in future years, though, the preparations are already in full swing.

At the moment, there are three communities that know their turn in the national spotlight is coming, and the one with the most time still to prepare is our own. The Twin Cities will host Super Bowl LII in 2018, and Minneapolis' Super Bowl committee has been in the Phoenix area all week, taking notes about how it might want to stage its own event in three years and doing some public relations work for what could be the coldest Super Bowl host city in more than a decade.

Yes, it's going to be cold in Minneapolis and St. Paul when the Super Bowl comes to town, and there's certain to be plenty said about the lack of sand and surf available for one of the nation's largest parties. (As Minneapolis' marketing folks are sure to tell you, though, there's more shoreline in Minnesota than in California, Florida and Hawaii combined. It's just that most of it surrounds frozen lakes in the wintertime.)

Maureen Bausch, the Mall of America's executive VP of business development who's currently serving as the Minneapolis Super Bowl committee's CEO, knows there'll be work to do to sell national travelers on the Twin Cities. The attempt to reframe Super Bowl LII's chilly climate are already underway.

"I think it's all about people," Bausch said. "If we make them feel good, they're going to have a good time. Arizona's done a good job of that, even in the rain. It's about showcasing our people, our sophisticated marketplace, our innovations. It's about showcasing all that we do in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and changing what people [think]. We're not Fargo -- not that Fargo's bad, but [we're not] the movie and everything."

The NFL will visit Minneapolis' proposed Super Bowl sites in March, and review the city's plans for the event. Nicollet Mall will tentatively host the Super Bowl Central fan activities, while the NFL Experience interactive exhibit will be in the Minneapolis Convention Center. Media day could be in either the Target Center in Minneapolis or the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, though concerns about the cramped quarters of this year's media day in the U.S. Airways Center could lead the committee to consider putting the event back in the stadium, where it has traditionally been.

Bausch said the Twin Cities' Super Bowl bid included events in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, adding the Super Bowl will coincide with St. Paul's Winter Carnival, which is expected to include an ice castle for the first time since the NHL All-Star Game was in town in 2004.

On Saturday, the Minneapolis Super Bowl committee will stage an event at the Arizona Biltmore hotel, where Vikings players Teddy Bridgewater, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo will help unveil the city's Super Bowl LII logo. The group's presence at Super Bowl L next year in San Francisco, and Super Bowl LI in Houston in 2017, will be even bigger, Vikings VP of public affairs Lester Bagley said.

By 2018, the group hopes fans, sponsors and dignitaries have warmed to the Twin Cities as a host.

"Being a retailer, it's your time to buy the very best winter clothes. Come prepared -- it's going to be a fashion show of beautiful winter clothes," Bausch joked. "I feel so bad for Arizona, because in rain, you can't do anything. In snow, we have fun."
PHILADELPHIA -- There are two ways to look at this one. When Tony Dungy compares Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, you might think, “Great! Rodgers was taken 24th in the 2005 NFL draft! The Eagles can get Mariota at No. 20 this year.”

On the other hand, of course, it is true that Rodgers’ slide to the latter part of the first round is looked back on as one of the more embarrassing miscalculations by NFL teams. Maybe not as bad as Russell Wilson going in the third round to Seattle in 2012, but pretty close.

According to JoeBucsFan.com, Dungy dismissed critics who say that Mariota is entirely a product of Oregon’s system.

"They said the same thing about Aaron Rodgers and he went late in the first round (that) year,” Dungy said. “And the feeling was that Alex Smith was a little more ready. I think Marcus will adapt and he’ll be fine."

Dungy has more than a passing interest. His son Eric is a wide receiver at Oregon. Dungy has seen Mariota play a lot more than he has watched Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the other top quarterback prospect in this year’s draft.

"If I watched Jameis as much, and knew as much about him, I’d probably have a similar opinion,” Dungy said. “But I just think Marcus is going to be sensational in the NFL."

As sensational as Rodgers, which is pretty sensational.

“I think Marcus has a lot of the same skill set,” Dungy said. “He has the same drive and determination. I just really think the world of him as a person. I just think he’s special.”

Dungy has advised Eagles head coach Chip Kelly about hiring a personnel adviser. There isn’t much need for Dungy to lobby Kelly on the potential of Mariota. Kelly said in December that Mariota is “the most talented” player he coached during his years in college.

The Eagles’ chances of drafting Mariota are obviously not very good. The team with the best chance to take him is Dungy’s former employers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers hold the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.

It may be more popular in Tampa to draft the Florida State star. But no team wants to be the one that passed on the chance to get a talent like Aaron Rodgers. There were 23 of those teams in 2005.


Roger Goodell reiterates opinion that Bills need new stadium

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills since 1973, lacks the features necessary for a state-of-the-art NFL facility and will need to be replaced.

"I do believe that a stadium, long-term, is going to be needed in that marketplace," Goodell said at his annual Super Bowl news conference in response to a direct question about the Bills' need for a new home.

Terry and Kim Pegula completed their purchase of the Bills in October and vowed to keep the team in Buffalo.

"Terry and Kim have been very focused on the stadium," Goodell said Friday. "I think that's one of the things that they're evaluating with their franchise. What's the next generation of stadium? I think that's an important consideration for the Buffalo market and that region, but also for the NFL and for Terry and Kim."

"I'm from Western New York," continued Goodell, who was born in Jamestown. "I love Ralph Wilson Stadium. But it's got to compete against a lot of these new stadiums that have a lot of very important features that that stadium doesn't have. So they're going through that process. We will certainly work with them, cooperate with them and if we can be helpful, we will."

The Bills have completed two seasons on their current 10-year lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium. Local and state politicians have been adamant about keeping open the possibility of an extensive renovation.

If a new stadium if built, Terry Pegula and Bills president Russ Brandon cautioned in October that progress would not be swift. "We will gradually proceed to plan and design a stadium for the Buffalo Bills," Pegula said. "These things take time."

"We'd all love to have a shiny, new stadium. I think we're all about trying to improve the experience, but we just spent $130 million on a renovation and we're two games in," Brandon said on Oct. 10. "We've got a lot of time, the way the lease is constructed, to make an informed decision as we move forward."
PHOENIX – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been out of sight, at least in terms of public appearances. But the team’s coaching change, with John Fox out and Gary Kubiak in, has not been out of Manning's mind.

Manning is aware of the public conversation following Kubiak’s hire has been about whether Manning could fit into his new coach's offense. On Friday, Manning said the subject isn't worth debate.

“I know that’s been a hot topic of discussion," Manning said following a breakfast where he received the Bart Starr Award for his off-the-field efforts. “ ... But if I choose to come back, I feel pretty comfortable, aside maybe from Tubby Raymond’s Delaware Wing-T offense, I feel pretty comfortable playing in any offense. I really do. I don’t see that as really being a factor."

Manning’s affirmation of his ability to work within Kubiak’s playbook confirms what former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said shortly after Kubiak’s hiring that the two would be able to work together.

“There's no doubt in my mind," Plummer said earlier this month. "Man, look, Gary is a great coach and great coaches change their systems up -- they extend it or tweak it to maximize their players' abilities. But they would both have to work at it, they both would have to find what was best for them on each side. They could do it, but they would have to put in the time to make it right. It’s not an exact fit, but Kubes is a great, great coach and Peyton is one of the best ever. If they want to get it done, need to get it done, they'll get it done."

Manning has not yet decided if he will return for the 2015 season, but said Friday he doesn’t want the process “to linger." He said Kubiak’s offense and any fallout from the Broncos’ 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s divisional round would not be factors. Kubiak has run a version of the West Coast offense almost exclusively in his career as an NFL play-caller. It requires the quarterback to be on the move plenty, to throw on the run, rolling left or right to both sides of the formation at various times.

Manning has played almost exclusively in the pocket in his Hall of Fame career with a far different playbook with far different verbiage in the play calls. Kubiak, on the day he was introduced as Broncos coach, said it would be “easy to work with Peyton," and that should Manning return: "We would make an offense that fits what our players do. This will be a Denver Broncos offense, not Gary Kubiak's offense. ... We would work to Peyton's strengths when the time comes and he makes his decision either way."

Manning also reaffirmed Friday his decision to return will be based largely on his physical health as well as the team's plans for himself and the roster.

“I’m kind of still determining that," Manning said. “That’s a little bit of the time. I’m taking some time to assess some things and to see. That’s something that’s important to me is not whether I can physically do it for myself, but can I physically do it to help the team? I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution to helping and never a problem or a limiting factor for the team. I want to be able to look Coach Kubiak and John Elway and Joe Ellis in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, physically, I honestly feel I can contribute and help.'

“It’s one thing to play and have a uniform and be on the roster. It’s another to truly contribute and help. And that’s the only thing I’ve known in football."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Since he was placed on the commissioner's exempt list in September, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has received a steady stream of support from teammates who've said they want to see him back on the field. In that regard, what wide receiver Greg Jennings said in a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday wasn't that out of the ordinary.

But Jennings' comments caught my eye for a different reason in that they went a step further. Here's what he had to say:

“I don’t know if he’ll be back. I can’t answer that question,” Jennings said. “But what I do know is that if he does come back, he’d be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it’s a touchy subject and he’s been the franchise player – face of that team – for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can’t get him back, and that’s the nature of this business.”

That Jennings said Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, from ownership on down, is interesting to me. Without knowing whether he's spoken to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation, it's still safe to say the receiver made one of the more sweeping proclamations of support for Peterson that we've heard from the Vikings. Coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have said they want Peterson back, in so many words, but we haven't heard from ownership on Peterson's future and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Scheffer reported in November that team vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer Kevin Warren had been working with the league to keep Peterson off the field in 2014.

Peterson told ESPN in December that he'd felt the support from his teammates, and that while he'd thought about the idea of getting a fresh start with another team, he had also watched each Vikings game during his absence, imagining how he'd fit in next to Teddy Bridgewater. He also said he knew the people who hadn't supported him in the Vikings organization are, "in the big scheme of things, not relevant.

"There's people in the organization that I know hands-down love me," Peterson said in December. "I feel skeptical, of course, but that has been comforting."

Jennings added another layer to that on Friday. Whether it reflects a unanimous sentiment in the organization is another matter, but the receiver certainly didn't mince words about the Vikings' support for Peterson.
PHOENIX – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held his annual Super Bowl news conference and here are the takeaways as it relates to the league’s investigation into New England Patriots underinflated footballs used in the AFC Championship Game:

Kraft not present. It caught my attention that Robert Kraft, one of the league’s most influential owners, was not in attendance. Kraft was believed to have another obligation, but one follow-up question from this perspective is “What could be more important than the once-a-year “state of the NFL” news conference when you're already in town? Kraft had called out the NFL on Monday as the Patriots arrived at Super Bowl XLIX and it would be easy to connect the dots that perhaps his lack of attendance was tied to that. But for context, ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio noted that there weren’t many owners in attendance (maybe a half-dozen). Kraft, who hasn’t always attended, is most often on hand for this address.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell
Cliff Hawkins/Getty ImagesRoger Goodell said he admires Robert Kraft but won't do anything to 'compromise the integrity of the league.'
No knowledge of past in-game testing. Asked if the NFL has tested the air pressure in footballs during a game in the past, and how important that is as a frame of reference in the ongoing investigation, Goodell said he didn’t know the answer and that attorney Ted Wells will look into that as part of the investigation. From our viewpoint, this answer warrants scrutiny based on the magnitude of the NFL’s investigation and the media firestorm it has created. How could Goodell not know?

Response to Kraft’s remarks. When asked about Kraft’s remarks requesting an apology from the NFL if it couldn’t find conclusive evidence that footballs were tampered with, Goodell responded by saying he is simply doing his job. “This is my responsibility, to protect the integrity of the game, I represent 32 teams,” he said. “All of us want to make sure that the rules are being followed and if we have any information that potentially those rules were violated, I have to pursue that; I have to pursue that aggressively.”

Two areas in focus. Goodell narrowed the focus of the investigation to two areas: 1) Why were some footballs used in the game that were not in compliance with the rules; 2) Was that a result of deliberate action? Later, Goodell said, "Whether a competitive advantage is actually gained or not is secondary, in my mind, to whether that rule was violated. That's the integrity of our game. When those rules are violated, we will take that seriously."

No judgements made. Goodell said, “I want to emphasize, we have made no judgments on these points and we will not compromise the investigation by engaging in speculation.” Goodell did not address leaks to reporters, nor was he asked by those selected by public relations staffers in the news conference.

Goodell's ties to Kraft. Asked how he responds to remarks from Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman about his close ties to Kraft and how Sherman doesn't think the Patriots will face discipline, Goodell explained how his presence at Kraft's home before the AFC Championship Game was tied to an event with sponsors and how it's something he does on a regular basis. He also pointed out that he works closely with most owners, pointing out that Kraft's involvement on the broadcast and finance committees naturally links them. "I also admire him, respect, and think very highly of him on a personal level," he said. "There's no hiding from that standpoint. He knows me and that I'm not going to do anything to compromise the integrity of the league. I think he has no doubt that I'll do the right thing for the NFL." We are left to wonder how much Kraft's confidence in Goodell, based on this investigation, has been affected.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell strongly supported New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson when asked Friday about allegations that the 87-year-old is no longer mentally and physically fit to run his business operations.

Goodell twice referred to Benson as being in "complete control," though the commissioner acknowledged the family's legal battle over Benson's changed succession plan is "unfortunate."

[+] EnlargeTom Benson
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIndications are that NFL owners won't stand in the way of Tom Benson's new succession plan, which would leave control of his business empire to wife Gayle. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is at right.
Benson was sued last week by his former heirs -- daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc -- after he announced plans to leave control of his vast business empire to his wife, Gayle, instead of them. Benson's daughter and grandchildren are claiming that he's not mentally capable of making such a decision and that he's under the undue influence of his third wife, whom he married in 2004.

"I spoke to Tom Benson just the other day," Goodell said during his annual Super Bowl press conference in Arizona. "He was going into the office as usual. He was in complete control, energetic, excited about getting to the office, asking about league issues. As you know, he's been one of our more active owners in the league on various committees.

"They obviously have a dispute going on, which is always unfortunate. In this case it deals with succession, as opposed to the current management. And Tom Benson is a man of great integrity and a man that is enthusiastic about the NFL, the Saints, New Orleans, and somebody that has demonstrated to me he's got complete control over what he's doing to make sure that organization goes in the right direction."

Although Goodell won't be the ultimate authority in a court of law, his opinion would seem to validate what Saints/Pelicans officials and Benson's attorneys have suggested in recent days -- that they don't believe fellow NFL or NBA owners will stand in the way of Benson's wishes. Team officials and Benson's attorneys have said they don't believe there will be any hurdles among the owners in approving Benson's new succession plan, despite the fact that Gayle Benson is inexperienced as a business owner and faced several lawsuits when she was in the interior design business in the 1980s and 1990s.

It's unclear when league owners will vote to approve Benson's plan. But in order for Gayle Benson to eventually take ownership, she would have to be approved by three-fourths of NFL owners and by the same percentage of NBA owners.

NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt, who used to participate in owners meetings as a top executive with the Green Bay Packers, said, "My sense is that they will support Benson in every way possible, including his wishes with Gayle, unless the allegations of mental incompetence are proven and put the team at some risk.

"I can't say I'm very familiar with the process [of approving a new succession plan], but my thoughts are that the NFL craves stability in ownership," Brandt said. "They would like to look out upon each team and know that each is secure in solid, stable and financially secure hands. This situation obviously is uncomfortable.

"As for vetting, it is always thorough. But the owners all know Gayle from league functions, thus she comes in with that advantage."

One other note when it comes to league matters: A source within the Saints organization said Rita Benson LeBlanc is no longer part of the NFL and NBA committees that she served on, because she was terminated by the Saints and Pelicans. Benson LeBlanc previously chaired the NFL employee benefits committee, among other committees she has served on with both leagues.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt likes to get away during offseasons.

Not away from working out, but away from everything else, at least for a time.

Last season, that manifested itself in his dropping a mattress on his friend's dining room floor and sleeping there while he put himself through two-a-days, living what he termed a "Rocky" lifestyle. This season he has a new location for those solitary workout days, as he bought himself a simple cabin in Wisconsin.

"It’s really minimalistic," Watt told the Houston Chronicle. "The only thing I have to focus on is training, and that’s the way I like it. There’s no frills. There’s nothing to distract you up here."

Though a superstar in Houston, Wisconsin is Watt's home. He grew up and went to college there and has said he wants to retire there some day. His favorite line about the accolades and records he's accumulated this season is that someday he'll enjoy those accomplishments sitting on his porch in Wisconsin, cracking a beer.

Probably not in the winter months, though. In those, when he isn't on a photo shoot with Katy Perry, jumping over Jimmy Kimmel or intercepting Pro Bowl quarterbacks, he'll retreat to his bunker.

Watt told Sports Illustrated's Don Banks he bought the cabin during the season.

"After this week, I get to go back there and just kind of lay low," he told Banks. "It’s in southeast Wisconsin, but it’s out a little bit. I’ve actually only slept there four nights so far. ... I always go back to Wisconsin, but this is my first year of actually having a place. I’m excited about that."