DANA POINT, Calif. -- The NFL is going to be ready.
Although no specific timetable has been set for the start of negotiations between the league and the NFL Players Association for a new collective bargaining agreement, commissioner Roger Goodell and club owners are formulating details and strategies that they will take into the talks during the four-day league meeting at the St. Regis Hotel.
By Wednesday, when Goodell adjourns the session, all that will be necessary is settling on a date to get started with new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, with whom the commissioner met during a getting-acquainted session last Friday.
"I think DeMaurice understands that we'll be prepared coming out of this meeting and ready to go when he is," Goodell said.
Goodell and the owners are mapping out their priorities going into the negotiations. The commissioner wouldn't be specific as to what they are, beyond saying, "The primary issue is we need a system that will allow the game to grow, where we can continue to invest in the game."
"Everything is transparent and we're looking at everything," Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said.
Still, it's clear that these are among the leading topics being covered here in preparation for the talks to put a new CBA in place for the one that is due to expire after the 2010 season:
» The impact of the economic downturn on the NFL. One of the league's greatest concerns is the financial risk owners face in financing new stadiums as well as the challenges presented by declining revenue from sponsorship and licensing deals, and a potential drop in ticket sales. The league is setting out to get the players to share more of that risk.
"There's a lot of risk out there," Goodell said. "And that risk is falling on the owners. I think there's got to be a recognition of the costs that are associated with operating NFL franchises. That includes operating stadiums and building stadiums."
"It's a more capital-intensive business than it was 20 years ago," McNair said. "In addition to the debt service (from constructing new stadiums), you also have tremendous expenses in operating new stadiums. Originally, you worried about selling tickets; that was the main consideration. Now you've got to sell tickets, you've got to keep your media partners happy and you've got to have a wonderful experience for your fans in the stadium and you've got to be able to operate the stadium and be able to service a lot of debt that you didn't have to before."
» Getting a handle on rookie salaries. "There's been a lot of discussion about a rookie (salary) cap," Goodell said. The NFL's primary concern is reducing the amount of money paid to players who have yet to play a single professional down and distributing it to established veterans.
» Adding one or two games to the current 16-game regular season played over 17 weeks. The emphasis here is creating greater value by playing more games that are meaningful and less that have no meaning. If one regular-season game is added, the preseason would be reduced by a game. And if two regular-season games are added, the preseason would shrink by two games.
Goodell has had the NFL's competition committee study the matter because it figures to be a significant part of the CBA talks. For the most part, committee members see potential problems in having enough healthy players available for the additional regular-season games. There also is a school of thought that, although there might be fewer meaningless games in the summer, there actually could actually be more meaningless games at the end of the year with the greater possibility of teams having already secured playoff berths with two or more games left on the schedule.
Nevertheless, the league sees greater potential to grow its product if, over the course of 20 weeks, there are more games that count.
Goodell describes Smith, who was elected to replace the late Gene Upshaw, as an "impressive guy" and looks forward to working with him.
If a new CBA isn't settled by March of 2010, the NFL's salary cap will disappear. The timetable was mostly designed to provide the league incentive to complete a deal by then in order to maintain the cap and avoid the potential of the unbalanced spending on salaries that exists in Major League Baseball.
However, as Goodell points out, if no CBA is settled by the deadline, players would not become unrestricted free agents until after six seasons, two years longer than the current system, and would also see a major decline in benefits.
"We're going to go into this negotiation trying to effectuate change that we think will be good for the NFL long term and the players," Goodell said. "I can't tell you the end of the story yet, because I really don't know. But we're going to go in and make sure that they understand the priorities for the ownership and we will obviously understand what issues the players have and we'll negotiate and hopefully come out with a resolution that'll be good for everybody."