- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Respect was the big theme as commissioner Roger Goodell opened the NFL owners meetings Monday.
"Let me leave you with one thought to guide us through the future," Goodell said to the owners. "Respect. Respect for our game and those that came before us. Respect for each other: teams, opponents and game officials. Respect for our fans, our lifeblood. Respect in our workplaces for the diversity that makes us stronger. Respect for our communities and the important role we play in those communities. It's about the significance of being part of this, 'The Shield.'"
"The Shield" took some serious hits in 2013. Richie Incognito's alleged harassing of teammate Jonathan Martin led to Martin's breakdown and a countless numbers of human resource violations in the Miami Dolphins' locker room. Taunting penalties rose from nine in 2012 to 34 last year. The NFL is trying to make sure the N-word is eliminated from the workplace.
The NFL is in the process of preparing for its first openly gay player, most likely draft prospect Michael Sam.
Safety will remain Goodell's main theme, but respect is something being worked on in 2014.
Here are the three things we learned on the first day of the owners meetings:
1. Expect a rule change to move the extra point back to the 25-yard line to be kicked out. New York Giants owner John Mara said it best. He doesn't feel there is enough support for making the PAT a more challenging play. In fact, he doesn't even think the idea has enough support to be tried for a week in the preseason as an experiment. The competition committee already has determined that a major PAT change won't happen for the 2014 season, but the committee was open to thoughts of an experiment. Technically, there isn't a formal proposal to try it in the preseason. Discussion begins Tuesday, but it's hard to think the debate will be long. There are some coaches who believe too much has changed in recent years and it's time to stop making tweaks to the rulebook.
2. Offensive players hoping to eliminate low hits will be disappointed in the competition committee report. The committee broke down every low-hit injury and foul. The debate started in the 2013 preseason when Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller blew out a knee on a low hit by Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. For safety, the league tried to reduce head injuries by eliminating hits above the shoulders. Offensive players thought the NFL might follow that trend and ban hits at the knee or lower. Wrong.
The committee studied 61 low hits on defenseless receivers and came to a stunning conclusion. The hits involved a defensive back who was smaller and lighter than the offensive player he was hitting. Receivers are bigger. Tight ends are big. Defenders have to have some chance of making a tackle. Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, said defensive players are doing a much better job of targeting hits. Fines for hits on defenseless receivers dropped from 40 in 2012 to 25 last year. Instead of going for the head, defenders are going for the body. No change is expected, and low hits will be allowed.
3. Plenty of odds and ends on a busy day. Goddell didn't speak to the media until early evening, and you can see why. A lot of things were happening. The league rubber-stamped a new one-year lease between the Oakland Raiders and the city of Oakland. However, Raiders owner Mark Davis openly spoke about the possibility that the team will consider moving if it can't get a long-term deal done this year. ... Getting back to the respect theme, Goodell continues to craft policy for having a better locker-room environment. He said the league has met with 40 players from nine different teams. A meeting with the NFLPA is scheduled for April 8 to work out anti-harassment and HR issues. As for the Dolphins, Goodell said three of the players involved with the Martin case -- Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey -- will be professionally evaluated before any discipline is determined. If the counselors believe sanctions are needed, suspensions will be handed out. ...
Goodell and the owners are going to give Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay time to get his life in order after being arrested in an automobile incident that led to four felony charges. A suspension is possible, but Goodell said he will wait for the case to play out and for Irsay to get out of rehab before any decision is made about discipline. ... The Colts' proposal to allow domed stadiums to open roofs at halftime was taken off the table. ... Owners invested another $45 million over the next five years in USA Football. This is a big thing. USA Football is trying to reach out of parents to allow their children to play the sport, which has seen a drop in participation. USA Football has reached out to 2,600 leagues and more than 90,000 coaches, along with 600,000 youth football prospects, to encourage kids to play the game. This investment is expected to get more families to let their kids play.