NFL Nation: Roger Goodell

INDIANAPOLIS -- The news of the Indianapolis Colts releasing receiver LaVon Brazill on Friday shouldn’t be surprising.

Brazill
Brazill
That was expected.

The only way Brazill had a chance of sticking with the Colts at the conclusion of his suspension, which will be at least a year, was if team officials were compassionate -- the same way they are with owner Jim Irsay -- and realized the receiver has a problem with substance abuse.

That evidently is not the case.

It’s easy to question the whole double-standard thing when talking about Brazill and Irsay because both parties have significant issues they need to address.

The difference between the two, though, is that Irsay is a businessman who helps the franchise. Brazill is a replaceable receiver. The Colts proved that when they signed a receiver -- Aaron Burks -- to take his spot on the roster Friday.

Don’t worry -- Irsay will get his punishment, too, once commissioner Roger Goodell figures out the best discipline for the owner.

As far as Brazill goes, he put himself in the position of not only losing out on the $570,000 he was scheduled to make during the 2014 season, but also being without a team to play on.

He knew that he could be randomly tested up to 10 times a month because he was in Stage 2 of the program following his first suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

He still failed to avoid the temptation.

Now Brazill’s money and roster spot, which wasn’t guaranteed anyway, are gone.

I talked to Da’Rick Rogers on the final day of the Colts’ mandatory minicamp last month and he said he was looking forward to the competition for one of the final receiver spots on the roster.

“I embrace the challenge,” Rogers told me.

You know what?

Rogers and Griff Whalen no longer have to worry about Brazill pushing them in the competition.
video Aldon Smith avoided charges for allegedly making a fake bomb threat at LAX in April.

However, he must learn from the incident. The San Francisco 49ers’ star linebacker has to realize that he has to do the right thing every day and his actions are going to be closely watched.

Smith put himself in this situation by having several off-field issues since entering the NFL three years ago.

Smith
In truth, even if misdemeanor charges were filed in Los Angeles, Smith would still have much bigger issues to contend with. But at least they are being addressed, and he does have a chance to soon get a clean slate. He will be sentenced July 25 for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face jail time. The NFL could also suspend him, as well.

However, those issues occurred before Smith took steps last September to get his life in order. He voluntarily entered a substance abuse treatment center and missed five games. The team was supportive and positive about Smith when he rejoined the team in late October and into the offseason. In October in London, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the fact Smith was seeking treatment could help him avoid or get a lesser suspension.

The landscape changed with the incident at LAX. The 49ers immediately put out a release stating they were “disappointed.” The team seriously considered not giving Smith his 2015 option despite it being a no-brainer business decision. Privately, people within the team and the league were furious that Smith was in the news again for negative reasons.

As part of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office’s decision not to file charges, they will have a hearing later this month with Smith. The goal of the hearing will be to teach Smith to avoid such situations in the future.

That is the ultimate lesson here: Smith has to avoid putting himself in bad situations.

The 49ers want him to succeed off the field, and they continue to support him. But if another situation arises, that might no longer be the case. As this review closes, Smith must make sure it’s the final bad situation he is involved in.
PITTSBURGH -- I expected the street outside of the magnificent St. Paul Cathedral to be choked with people.

There instead was a smattering of onlookers across from the church when Steelers president Art Rooney II and Steelers legend "Mean” Joe Greene, among others, carried the casket into St. Paul's, shortly before 10 a.m. ET Tuesday.

I expected the service to be filled with remembrances from former players and others lucky enough to occupy the same orbit as the only coach to win four Super Bowls.

There was one story told -- it came from Bishop David A. Zubik, who presided over the service that lasted about an hour -- and no eulogy.

The final farewell to Charles Henry Noll, in other words could not have been more fitting.

[+] EnlargeChuck Noll funeral
AP Photo/John HellerBishop David Zubik watches as pallbearers carry the casket of Chuck Noll out of St. Paul Cathedral.
Noll, who died at the age of 82 on Friday night, hated a fuss, particularly when someone tried to make one over him. That is why he probably would have been fuming instead of smiling following the outpouring of testimonials and talk of his towering legacy over the last four days.

It is also why his wife of almost 60 years gave pointed directions to Zubik when they planned the service held at the church that is tucked into the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

"Marianne (Noll) just said she wanted it very simple,” Zubik said. "She and I talked on Saturday and she wanted it to be as he lived his life -- no big fanfare.”

Noll did receive a send-off befitting his stature simply based on who attended the service: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and scores of former and current Steelers players, coaches and executives.

And the story Zubik relayed to mourners could not have better captured the essence of Chuck Noll. Zubik described how, as a young priest in Pittsburgh in 1979, he had to plan a retreat for high school seniors from area Catholic schools. And who better to give a talk on leadership than Chuck Noll? Zubik reached out to Noll through a friend and Noll agreed to speak to the group on the condition that Zubik tell no one about it.

Zubik kept his word but it looked like another Steelers' Super Bowl run would spoil Noll's speaking engagement. Noll, after all, had agreed to an appearance that was scheduled for two days after the Super Bowl.

But true to his word Noll showed up at the retreat less than 48 hours after the Steelers had won their fourth Super Bowl in six seasons. He talked to a group that included a Pittsburgh Central Catholic senior named Dan Marino. Oh, and, yeah, he drove himself there.

Zubik later got a call from one of the higher-ups in the Pittsburgh Diocese who wanted to know how in the world he had gotten Noll as a speaker. Zubik, in fact, had never met Noll.

That was the point, he said, of the story.

"For him it didn't matter how important you were or how unimportant you were,” Zubik said. "Through his eyes everyone was important.”

That was part of the consistency at which those who were around Noll on a regular basis marveled.

"What it takes to win on the field, what it takes to win off the field, he did not waver in that,” Greene said.

Noll and Greene are forever linked -- the latter was Noll's first-ever draft pick -- which is fitting considering how much they did to transform an organization that had mostly known losing and dysfunction prior to their arrival.

Greene shudders to think how things would have turned out had the Steelers not taken him with the fourth overall pick of the 1969 draft.

And that has little to do with the four Super Bowl rings he won with Noll.

"Maybe I wouldn't have had an opportunity to be coached by Chuck Noll and that would not have fared very well for me,” said Greene, who is widely considered the best player in Steelers' history.

It probably wouldn't have fared well for the Steelers either had they not hired a little-known 37-year assistant in 1969 who had played for Paul Brown and coached under Don Shula the previous season.

Noll went on to earn a place with Brown and Shula in the NFL coaching pantheon and then quietly walked away from the game in 1991.

He had receded from the public eye because of health problems years ago, but Noll's passing only reinforces how much time has passed since the Steelers ruled the 1970s -- a time when the steel mills were closing, jobs were drying up and Pittsburghers needed something to feel good about themselves.

"As we've lost Dwight White and L.C. (Greenwood) and some others, we want to hold on to the past and memories and we do,” said former Steelers offensive tackle Jon Kolb, who played for and coached under Noll for almost 25 years. "But I think Chuck's passing, it is truly the end of an era because he truly did bring all of those folks together.”

The day of his final farewell produced the kind of heat and humidity that Noll loved when he was putting his players through the paces at training camp. Noll may have been at his best when he was teaching on those grassy fields at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

No stadium lights. No scoreboards. No fanfare.

Just the way he always wanted it.
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers players from multiple eras -- including this one -- attended Chuck Noll's funeral on Tuesday morning in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell, Mel Blount
John Heller/AP PhotoNFL commisioner Roger Goodell and former Steelers CB Mel Blount embrace before Tuesday's funeral service for Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh.
Former Steelers greats such as Joe Greene, Franco Harris and John Stallworth were there. So were current players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Ike Taylor.

Commissioner Roger Goodell represented the NFL at the service that lasted just over an hour and turned out to be the simple goodbye that Noll, who passed away Friday at the age of 82, would have wanted.

Make that demanded.

Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also attended the funeral with Rooney II, the Steelers' president, joining Greene as one of the pallbearers.

No players spoke at the service but a handful of them talked afterward about what Noll meant to them and his legacy:

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and was Noll's first-ever draft pick.

"I used to be very, very bad-tempered with officials and Chuck said, ‘You know Joe, those guys have families and kids and they probably don't like you talking to them like that,' and I stopped doing it. He just had a way of sharing information with you that was long lasting. There's not many days that go by when I don't think back on something that Charles Henry Noll said. Anytime I was around Chuck it was a learning experience. Just an outstanding person."

Offensive tackle Jon Kolb played for the Steelers from 1969-81 and then coached under Noll with the Steelers from 1982-91.

"I got to coach with him also for 10 years and he made the point to coaches that the game is about the players. We're here to help the players prepare. That was what he wanted to do and I believe just from the talks I had with him, he didn't just want to prepare for the moment and the season but preparation for life, which is not the norm."

[+] EnlargeJohn Banaszak
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoJohn Banaszak recalls the opportunity Chuck Noll provided for him as a Steelers' defensive lineman.
John Banaszak played defensive tackle and defensive end for the Steelers from 1975-81.

"I was an undrafted rookie free agent and there were 17 draft choices in front of me, but Chuck gave me an opportunity and a chance to make that football team and I took advantage of it. I think whether or not I would have played seven years or I would have been (cut) two weeks into (his first) training camp he would have had a very big impact on me anyway. I learned that whether you're in business or you're a football coach or a football player, fundamentals are the essential parts of being successful. He stressed that regularly."

Tight end Mike Mularkey played for the Steelers from 1989-91 and coaches tight ends for the Tennessee Titans.

"You like to be around guys that like playing football and want to do it the right way. That's all he ever asked of his players, and I just told that to my guys in my (meeting) room this past week. He's the best coach I was fortunate to play for but I've gotten more from Chuck off the field about how to do things the right way. Family was important and a balance in life was important, and he showed that every day in his life. I hate to be here under these circumstances but I'm glad I got a chance to be here."

• Read more: A collection of memories from Steelers who played for or coached with Noll.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The final significant days of the offseason for the Indianapolis Colts (outside of when commissioner Roger Goodell disciplines owner Jim Irsay) starts Tuesday at the team's facility when they begin the first of three days of mandatory minicamp before breaking up for the final time prior to reporting for training camp July 23.

Let's take a look at several things to pay attention to during the camp:

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsThe competition at running back, including Trent Richardson, won't be decided in this week's mandatory minicamp.
Offensive line battle: You can go ahead and put Khaled Holmes down as the starting center, but with Donald Thomas (quad, bicep) still working his way back, the starting guard positions could end up taking some time. Hugh Thornton, who took Thomas's spot after he was injured last season, has been working with the first team at right guard during organized team activities. Lance Louis had been working with the first team at left guard, but rookie Jack Mewhort, the Colts' second-round pick, moved ahead of him last week. The competition will intensify during training camp.

Running back competition: Just like the battle for the starting guard position, we won't get full competition for the starting running back position because Vick Ballard (knee) isn't expected to take part, as he's still working his way back from ACL surgery. Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw, the other two primary candidates, both wore red non-contact jerseys during OTAs. So this is another competition that won't pick up until training camp. All three players will get playing time, but keep in mind that coach Chuck Pagano said earlier in the offseason they want a workhorse in the backfield.

Landry sighting: Safety LaRon Landry has been the most significant healthy player missing during OTAs. It's not required for players to attend OTAs and Landry prefers to work out on his own during the offseason. But it still would have been good if he would have popped in for some of the workouts because of the need for improvement for the defense, the transition from a seasoned veteran in Antoine Bethea to possibly Delano Howell, who lacks significant experience, and Landry simply didn't have a great first season with the Colts. The offense, as long as Andrew Luck is the quarterback, will be fine. He's shown he can be effective even without good blocking. The same can't be said about a defense that finished 20th in the league last season.

The Bjoern factor: The fact linebacker Robert Mathis (suspension) won't be with the Colts the first four games of the season has definitely sunk in. Now it's up to second-year player Bjoern Werner, who gets the first shot to start in Mathis's absence, to prove he was worth the Colts selecting him in the first round after an inconsistent rookie season. "This year it's just knowing the defense and to feel comfortable in the defense," Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "Now it's just his ability to get to the passer, which it's kind of you want him to do that in these OTAs, but he's never really going to get there because you don't have the pads on. But he's been doing a great job at least from the calls and signals and getting everything lined up and knowing exactly what he's supposed to do. It's a great situation for him."

Can Adams help: The Colts signed veteran safety Mike Adams over the weekend to take Corey Lynch's spot on the roster after placing him on injured reserve. Howell is leading the race to start, but Adams has started 73 games in his career. The question about Adams is: Does he have enough left in his 33-year-old body to help the Colts and possibly supplant Howell as the starting safety alongside Landry?

Who won't be there: Barring a sudden change of events, here are the players -- not including those on injured reserve -- you won't see taking part in minicamp. Receiver Reggie Wayne (knee), Ballard (knee) and Thomas (quad, bicep).
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't often have his wife, Jane, by his side on business trips, but Thursday night at the New England Patriots' indoor practice facility provided him a unique opportunity to do so.

Welcome to the NFL- and Patriots-sponsored "Moms Football Safety Clinic."

[+] EnlargeRobert Kraft, Roger Goodell
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaPatriots owner Robert Kraft was joined by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for a football safety clinic for mothers on Thursday.
"She's a big believer," Goodell said prior to the two-and-a-half hour event which drew about 275 mothers from the region. "We have twin girls who are 12 going on 13, and they love sports. They play soccer and they play lacrosse. They've had teammates that have been injured. They've had concussions. They've had other injuries. They recognize there is a risk when they go out on the field, but they love it.

"And we love the values they learn. They're learning about themselves, they're learning about teamwork, they're learning about hard work, they're learning that when they get knocked down how to get up and go. We all want to prepare our kids for the future and we think sports are a big part of that. We're believers in that."

Goodell is obviously also a believer in football, a sport which has come under scrutiny by some, with President Barack Obama previously saying that if he had a son, he wasn't sure if he would allow him to play professionally.

This marked the fifth league-sponsored football clinic targeted to mothers that Goodell has attended. The NFL first started them last October in Chicago, and Thursday's was the 10th of a 25-stop tour through the spring of 2015. The next clinic is scheduled for Sunday in Indianapolis.

"It's talking about the future of our game, and helping moms and parents and families make the important decisions about participating in sports, particularly about football, and giving them the right information to make those decisions," he said.

"There is risk with any sport, but the rewards are overwhelmingly positive. That's why we want our kids playing sports, but playing them safer. We think we have a role in that. We think we have a responsibility to do that."

The clinic included a panel discussion, led by Jane Skinner Goodell, that featured Christine Golic, wife of former NFL player and current ESPN Radio host Mike Golic; Rhoda Tippett, wife of Pro Football Hall of Famer and longtime Patriot Andre Tippett; Bianca Wilfork, wife of current Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork; and 42-year Foxborough resident Deb Cunniff.

Andre Tippett, Kraft and Roger Goodell also delivered remarks, before on-field demonstrations were led by Patriots players Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower, Matthew Slater, Logan Ryan, Kanorris Davis, Chris White, Jake Bequette, Chris Jones and Marcus Forston. The Patriots' defensive coaching staff, led by coordinator Matt Patricia, also took part.

A focus on safety, including USA Football's "Heads Up" football program, was a consistent theme.

"The biggest thing is giving people information they can understand. It's overwhelming, the information," Goodell said. "We try to tell them places to go to get that information so they can make the right decision for their family. Also, to make sure they understand the rewards of playing sports.

"They hear from a lot of parents that have been through it -- how to ask questions to the coaches, how to get involved in a positive way, how to make sure, if their kids are participating in football, that they are doing so in 'Heads Up' supported leagues so they know their coaches are being trained and certified."


INDIANAPOLIS -- OK, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. You’re officially on the clock.

Goodell said on multiple occasions -- starting with the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Florida, -- over the past two months that he wanted to wait to see how the legal process played out before deciding how he would discipline Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Guess what? Irsay has been charged.

He was charged with one count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a C misdemeanor, and one count of operating a vehicle with a schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in the body, also a C misdemeanor.

Now all eyes, especially those of the players in the league, will shift their focus to Goodell.

This is a situation where Goodell may have to be harsher on Irsay than he may have been any other time on a front office official because his reputation is on the line with the players, who believe there’s a double standard when it comes to how Goodell disciplines.

"The NFL's Personal Conduct Policy applies to all league personnel and holds all of us accountable," Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications for the NFL, said in an email. "We are reviewing the matter and will take appropriate action in accordance with the policy."

Washington Redskins safety Ryan Clark was on ESPN earlier this week and questioned Goodell’s handling of Irsay.

"When does a charge necessarily warrant the penalty? We've seen in so many cases, Roger Goodell be judge and jury when it comes to players," Clark said. "… So here we have Jim Irsay, a guy, an owner, who has history of substance abuse, who's found in a car with over $29K and prescription drugs that weren't in his name, pulled over for driving under the influence, and now we're saying we need more information? What more information do we need than these aren't your prescription pills? You're obviously under the influence. You have $29K. There would be no questions asked if this was a player."

Clark's comments could easily be directed toward how Goodell dealt with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Goodell decided to wait for the legal process to play out before he suspended Roethlisberger for six games (later reduced to four) in 2010 after he was accused, but not charged with, sexual assault.

It should be noted, though, that Goodell’s wait-and-see approach recently hasn’t been just with Irsay. He’s done the same thing with Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was arrested in February for allegedly striking his fiancée. Rice will take part in a diversion program that may allow him to avoid jail time and fully expunge his record.

Late Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams was fined $250,000 for making an obscene gesture at Buffalo fans in 2009. Goodell fined Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand $100,000 and suspended him 30 days after he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in 2010.

Whatever punishment Goodell decides for Irsay -- fine/suspension -- the commissioner must know it has to be good enough to appease the players.
Vikings Stadium renderingAP Photo/HKSMinneapolis will host Super Bowl LII. But that doesn't mean cold-weather sites will become a regular part of the rotation.
In February, the NFL pulled off its first outdoor Super Bowl in a northern city. Relatively pleasant temperatures greeted visitors in New York City and fans at MetLife Stadium, and a postgame snowstorm did little to tarnish the event.

So in its very next Super Bowl decision, the league awarded its 2018 game to the coldest market in the country. Minneapolis-St. Paul will host Super Bowl LII, a verdict that some observers believe will usher in a new era of climate-neutral positioning for the event.

For now, I would spread caution on the notion that the NFL has embraced the idea of a cold outdoor Super Bowl. There is no reason -- yet -- for places such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and Seattle to assume they are now on equal ground with warmer sites.

Both New York/New Jersey in 2014 and Minnesota in 2018 should be viewed not as a trend but with specific conditions. More than $2 billion was committed to construction of stadiums in those two markets, a total the NFL was obliged to reward while also sending a message to other municipalities that are stuck in stadium negotiations. It was important enough in New York to risk a one-time bad-weather game, but in Minnesota the game will be played inside a dome, and many events during the week will be connected by indoor skywalks and/or light-rail trains to minimize outdoor exposure.

There isn't much about either circumstance to suggest a jump in this trend to, say, Chicago's Soldier Field or Denver's Sports Authority Field. Both cities have suitable infrastructure to host a Super Bowl, but their stadiums are neither new nor domed. The same goes for Seattle's CenturyLink Field and Green Bay's Lambeau Field, among others. Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field is undergoing the final stages of a $125 million upgrade this offseason, but it's not the type of large-scale project the league would feel compelled to reward.

Those are the facts. Perhaps the NFL will one day shift to a more egalitarian system of Super Bowl distribution. It's just not there yet.

Speaking this week about Minnesota's winning bid, commissioner Roger Goodell was clear. The "distinguishing factor," he said, "was the stadium project and the effort they had to bring that stadium to completion. The plans that they have for it and the commitment that community has demonstrated is a positive influence on several owners."

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Having awarded the game to a region with an average February temperature of 18 degrees, Goodell spoke diplomatically about cold-weather sites. "If you want to play golf," he said, "that may not be your first choice. You may play golf and then come to Minneapolis." But nowhere in his comments was an indication that Minnesota in 2018 is anything more than an expected quid pro quo for the $498 million in taxpayer money flowing to the stadium project.

I'm not as opposed to a bad-weather game as some, and the NFL missed one by about 12 hours in February. But if all things were equal, it's fair to assume the NFL would prefer the lower risk of a game in New Orleans, Miami, San Diego or another southern locale. At the moment, however, all things are not equal. The league had a debt to pay to New York and Minnesota. Soon, it will make good on Atlanta's new $1 billion stadium, set to open in 2017.

What could push the NFL over the (climate) hump? A lack of suitable warm options is one factor. Owners have made clear that South Florida's Sun Life Stadium must be upgraded before hosting another game. San Diego, meanwhile, won't get another game until it replaces Qualcomm Stadium. Los Angeles no longer has a Super Bowl-caliber facility.

Even so, the league has domed options it could choose rather than playing outside. Goodell said he believes New Orleans will get another game. Indianapolis, site of a great event in 2012, wants to remain in the rotation.

The only real reason to open bidding to northern sites with older stadiums, as you might have guessed, is if it can lead to additional revenues. Is that possible? Of course. There is nothing to stop an ambitious market from sweetening its bid with new tax breaks, bigger promises and other visionary perks that could elevate the Super Bowl's status and earning power. It's certainly possible, but we're not there. Yet.
ATLANTA -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is still taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding how to discipline Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for his March arrest.

Why the wait?

Authorities have yet to get the results from Irsay's blood sample. Irsay was arrested March 17 for allegedly operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He faces four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance.

"There have been no charges," Goodell said. "So the answer is, until we have more information or more facts, we will let it play out."
ATLANTA -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell does not view Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis' four-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy any different than any other player's and therefore declined to hear his appeal.

Mathis
Mathis was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season for taking the drug Clomid as a fertility aid to help his wife get pregnant. The NFL prohibits the use of Clomid. Mathis claims he relied on an urologist's advice on taking the drug.

Dr. Steven Morganstern told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter earlier this week that he had no idea that Mathis played in the NFL and that hd did not know Clomid was on the NFL's list of banned substances.

"The first principle of our joint drug program with the players association is you're responsible for what's in your body," Goodell said. "There are several avenues for you to contact people in advance to determine whether you should or should not take a particular drug. And we have a process set up."

Goodell said he declined to be the "hearing officer" in Mathis' case when asked by the players union. Goodell usually has a designee, who is also a league official, hear the appeals of players. Mathis' appeal of the suspension was denied by the league.

"I chose not to [hear the appeal]," Goodell said. "I didn't see any reason that this was different than any of the other drug cases, and I do not hear those."
Good news had been harder to come by than rushing yards for Ray Rice.

But his acceptance into a pretrial diversion program on Tuesday should lead to a pending assault charge against the Ravens running back getting dropped.

It could also mark a significant milestone if Rice ultimately redeems himself following a nightmarish 2013 campaign that spilled into the offseason.

Rice
Rice
A video of Rice dragging his fiancée following a mid-February fight in Atlantic City went viral and ultimately led to his indictment in late March for allegedly hitting Janay Palmer, who is now his wife.

The pretrial diversion program will allow Rice to avoid jail time as well as a conviction on his permanent record. That doesn’t mean the three-time Pro Bowler is in the clear as he tries to rehabilitate his once-pristine image and revive his football career.

Rice is still subject to discipline for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and commissioner Roger Goodell has never hesitated to come down on players who tarnish the league’s image.

Goodell may feel compelled to discipline Rice and even suspend him for the start of the 2014 season considering how closely others who have been punished by Goodell will be watching.

However Goodell proceeds in this matter, Rice can at least be optimistic that he is on the road back and that he can largely focus on football. Few if any players will be more motivated than Rice going into next season.

He rushed for 660 yards and four touchdowns and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in 2013. A sputtering running game was one of the main reasons why the Ravens slipped to 8-8 and did not get the chance to defend their Super Bowl title in the playoffs.

And it only got worse for Rice after the much-publicized altercation in Atlantic City delivered a jarring hit to his reputation.

His acceptance into the pretrial diversion program doesn't put all of Rice's troubles behind him.

But it is a start to working his way back, and given how the last year has played out for Rice, he will probably take what he can get right now.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Listen to members of the Indianapolis Colts talk and the common theme coming out their mouths is having people who fit in with their "horseshoe" tradition.

For so long, being in the "horseshoe" family meant staying out of trouble, proudly representing the organization and being a part of their winning tradition.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Colts can get by just fine if owner Jim Irsay is suspended, but it's a different story with sack machine Robert Mathis.
That "horseshoe" image has taken a substantial hit this offseason with two of the Colts' leaders at the forefront of the problems. If owner Jim Irsay's arrest in March wasn't embarrassing enough, Friday's four-game suspension of pass-rush specialist Robert Mathis for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances further put the Colts in a negative light.

Mathis immediately released a statement following the announcement of his suspension that said he tested positive for a fertility drug. He and his wife are expecting a daughter in the fall.

The mistake Mathis made, which he acknowledged in the statement, is that he failed to check with the NFL or the NFL Players Association to see if what he was taking was illegal.

That's a mistake players should not make, especially a veteran like Mathis.

This is the second straight year that the Colts will be missing a player at the start of the season. Receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Weslye Saunders were suspended for the first four and eight games, respectively, for not following the league's substance-abuse policies.

Indianapolis isn't done with being disciplined.

Commissioner Roger Goodell still has to determine how he will handle Irsay following his arrest for allegedly operating a vehicle while intoxicated in March. He faces four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. Irsay took part in the team's draft last week and will be in Atlanta for the NFL owners meetings next week after spending time in a rehabilitation facility immediately following his arrest.

There's little doubt Goodell will discipline Irsay. In March, during the league's owners meetings in Orlando, Florida, Goodell said the Colts owner is subject to league discipline for his arrest but would wait "to understand the facts" before making a decision.

The Colts will be able to get by without Irsay if Goodell fines and suspends him as expected because the franchise is in capable hands with general manager Ryan Grigson on the football side and chief operating officer Pete Ward on the business side.

The same can't be said about the Colts' defense without Mathis.

If facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles in the first two weeks of the season wasn't difficult enough already, now Indianapolis has to figure out a way to slow down those two offenses without the player responsible for 46 percent of their sacks (19.5) last season. Mathis, the heart and soul of the defense, will also miss games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

The Colts' image and aspirations to take another step in the AFC next season took a hit they couldn't afford to take Friday.
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NFL draft fans presumably disgruntled by a two-week delay did nothing this past weekend to motivate a return to its late April home. Idle complaints are one thing, but tangible results are another.

I hate to break it to you, but if anything, record-setting television ratings might justify not only a permanent May date but also a rumored expansion into a traveling four-day event as part of a larger offseason reorganization.

I’m not sure how else to interpret the significance of the most-watched NFL draft in history, one whose popularity rose measurably even when compared to its most recent incarnations. There are plenty of ways to evaluate the success of an event, but when you remember that the NFL is a big business with its eyes trained closely on key metrics, it’s difficult to ignore the impact of a draft reaching 45.7 million people -- topping the 2010 figure of of 45.4 million in 2010. (Combined ESPN/NFL Network ratings rose 28 percent Thursday night, eight percent Friday night and 17 percent Saturday.)

You might consider that bump a one-time boost from Johnny Manziel, whose first-round fall created intense drama for nearly three hours Thursday night. (Indeed, ratings for the first round alone on ESPN rose by 49 percent.) It's also fair to point out that the usually soulless Saturday affair was punctuated by the anticipation of history; Missouri defensive end Michael Sam remained on the board until eight picks remained in the seventh and final round.

Those factors, however, are but educated guesses that must be fleshed out through focus groups and other research. Regardless, the specific attribution isn't likely to dissuade the NFL from its path.

First, it's silly to assume there will never be another Manziel, and the NFL sure won't forget. If I'm sitting in the NFL office basking in the glow of a ratings bonanza, I'm wondering whether Manziel-mania wasn't fueled in part by an additional two weeks of buzz. Maybe Manziel was simply Tim Tebow with more pre-draft marketing.

Before you laugh at that possibility, consider how NFL Media executive vice president Brian Rolapp described the draft during an interview Monday morning on CNBC's Squawk Box.

"It's actually a way for fans to come out in the offseason," Rolapp said. "They love it. There's this pent-up demand, I think, for football, and that hits this time and people are looking for a release. They find it in the draft."

It's clear the NFL wanted to see what would happen if it pushed the draft into May, which would be the first step in reorganizing the NFL offseason to maximize marketing over a 12-month period. Perhaps the "pent-up demand" created even more interest, but clearly, no damage was done despite the anecdotally unfavorable public opinion. Fans might have been annoyed but not enough to dissuade their viewership. The ratings, in fact, support those within the NFL office who would like to continue expansion.

How could that happen? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the idea of cannibalizing -- er, extending -- the draft into four days. (A two-day first round? One night for each round?) Both he and Ralopp have spoken openly about moving the draft to another city. If I'm envisioning an Oscars-like Hollywood event in Los Angeles, then I'm sure they are already ordering the red carpet. To be sure, from a business standpoint, the draft appears to have plenty of expansion possibilities.

What about the football side? (Ha!) It wasn't difficult to find protests from general managers who prefer an April draft. The most substantive issue is a two-week delay in getting rookies their playbooks and beginning the transition process. But if I'm a league executive who smells expansion and higher revenue, I'm noting that those rookies will still get the same amount of work on the field -- via organized team activities and minicamps -- as they would in April. In fact, there could be a slight benefit given the NFL/NCAA rule that limits rookie practice participation until after a player's school has completed its final semester/quarter.

In an interview Thursday with ESPN Radio , Goodell noted there are "pluses and minuses" in delaying the draft but was careful to note two positives. First, teams with new general managers or coaches received extra time to evaluate their rosters while preparing for the draft. Second, the timetable could allow more rookies to graduate on time. "Not many people think about that," he said.

Goodell also noted discussions about moving the late-February scouting combine back to perhaps March, which he said would give players more time to prepare. Teams that traveled deep into the playoffs would also benefit. A March combine would also, of course, leave more time to build buzz and provide better spacing from the Super Bowl.

So if you're hoping for a return to an April draft, my guess is you'll be disappointed. Realistically, the 2014 draft needed to be a disaster for the NFL to reverse course. Far from it. Based on the immediately available data and its evolution into a television show above all else, it was the most successful draft of all time. April showers bring May flowers. Or something like that.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell provided some closing thoughts on this week’s NFL owners meetings.

Here are some tidbits Goodell offered about the Miami Dolphins:
  • Goodell was pleased with the progress the NFL made this week on locker-room culture. There were several productive sessions to help coaches and general managers be proactive and avoid what happened last year in Miami during the Dolphins' bullying scandal.
  • In terms of suspensions, Goodell said the NFL will not take action until all three players complete their medical evaluations. Goodell announced Tuesday that Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey must seek treatment. “The medical evaluation is a priority for us,” Goodell said.
  • NFL vice president of football Troy Vincent added that the league will “consider everything” when it comes to potential suspensions. Pouncey could be in hot water because NFL lead investigator Ted Wells didn’t find some of Pouncey’s accounts credible, according to the report.

The Dolphins and the NFL leave Orlando with a much better grasp on how to improve locker-room culture, which was a major focus at the owners meetings. The next step for Miami will be awaiting word on Pouncey's playing status for the start of the regular season.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Redskins owner Dan Snyder not only listened, but took action when it comes to issues surrounding Native Americans. The Redskins, of course, have been under heavier attack over the past year to change their name.

But starting in November, Snyder and others from the organization have met with 26 different tribes around the country. The Redskins announced that they had started the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, designed to provide resources and support to tribes around the country.

“He’s not only listened, he’s has learned, and now he is taking action,” Goodell said of Snyder. “He is trying to address some of the very important needs that they have identified when he has been having those meetings. That was a presentation completely by the Redskins. It was their initiative and I think the membership appreciated hearing that.”

The Redskins say a number of teams have expressed interest in working with the foundation. The opposition likely won’t drop their quest to change the nickname. But Goodell remained firm in his stance.

“That has been discussed for decades now. It comes up every once in a while. People have strong views on it,” he said. “But I think Dan has been very responsive and has been listening. It’s also pretty clear when you look at public opinion here. When you look at the polls 90 percent of the Redskins fans support the name, they believe it’s something that demonstrates pride and the general population also supports it overwhelmingly. He’s trying to be responsive and he’s listening and recognizing that people have different views."

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