CARLSBAD, Calif. -- During his address to open the NFL Rookie Symposium on Sunday night, Commissioner Roger Goodell used the recent "terrible, tragic" car accident involving New York Giants third-round draft pick Chad Jones as a sobering example of how fast life can a change.
Goodell told the 252 rookies in attendance at the La Costa Hotel and Conference Center that he had spoken by phone with Jones earlier in the day.
"He's doing well, he sounded great," Goodell said. "But it just shows you how fast life can change. He was expecting to be here today with you guys, and now he's not here.
"He had to struggle for his life, and he's going to have a long rehabilitation. And hopefully he's going to make it back."
The commissioner touched on a number of other topics with the rookies and later with reporters:
» In his address to the players, Goodell made a point of stressing the importance of proper personal conduct, although he didn't mention the upcoming suspension of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or any other specific case. "The No. 1 focus we want to talk about over the next few days is not as football players, it's you as a man," Goodell said. "It starts with being a good man. It starts with the values and character you can bring to the game of football."
Goodell told the rookies to honor themselves, honor their teams, honor the game and honor the fans.
"You have to understand what our fans are going through," he said. "They love this game of football. They love following the game, they love supporting it, and, yes, they love criticizing you once in awhile. But they invest a lot in our game. They invest their resources, they invest their time. And when those fans come up to you, you respect them. Make sure that you give them the respect so that they continue to support us."
» On what can be done about the escalation of salaries for high draft picks and the inequities it continues to create between rookies and established veterans: "I think a new rookie compensation system is critical. I think it's important that we have a system that is designed to reward players who succeed on the NFL field. And when a player is paid a lot of money and doesn't make it in the NFL, and that money leaves the system, that's not good for anybody. So I think we need to reward performance on the field."
» On how he would describe the status of labor talks with the NFL Players Association: "The same way I described it a couple of weeks ago. There are really no developments of any significance to report. There is talk: We had a meeting just last week. There'll be an agreement at some point. Everyone would like it sooner rather than later, whether it's the players, the owners or the fans. So I think it's important for us all to get down and get more productive dialogue. Sometimes these things don't happen until you get a little closer to the end (of the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires in March of 2011). That's just the reality."
» On player safety, Goodell said that besides rules changes and enforcement designed to provide players better protection, there would be a great deal of focus on improving equipment. He said during the preseason at least 14 teams would test new kinds of hip, thigh, and knee pads -- as well as those protecting the rib cage and shoulder area -- designed "to perform at a high level and make the guys safer, because you may have noticed the players aren't even wearing those pads any longer in many cases." He told the rookies, "Performance is important, but safety is more important."
» On the recent shooting that took place at a 30th birthday party for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick: "We're still gathering the facts. I think they've been reported fairly accurately from what I can tell and we've been told by law enforcement that he's not a focus of this at all. Obviously we've got to look to see whether there was any violation of policy in there or his conditions (for reinstatement last year after he served jail time and a suspension for his involvement in a dogfighting ring). We're continuing to gather that."
» On the recent altercation involving Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young at a strip club: "We've been gathering the information on that also. I would tend to (expect to) probably visit with him sometime in the next few weeks."
» On the Saturday arrest of Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand on suspicion of drunk driving: "I said before (the league's personal-conduct policy) isn't a players' policy. It's a personal-conduct policy. It goes for everybody in the NFL, including yours truly."