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Commissioner Goodell optimistic new labor deal will get done

TAMPA, Fla. -- Despite fears of a worsening economy and potential labor problems, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tried to be upbeat Friday, saying the game was showing signs of being safer and that the league wasn't done tinkering with overtime.

In his state of the NFL address at the Super Bowl, Goodell said he was hopeful there would be a new agreement with the union before the 2010 season.

Still, there was no getting around the fact the NFL was hardly immune from the world's ongoing financial chaos.

"We're not part of the economic crisis in the sense that we have any specific steps that we can take for the broader economy," he said. "As it relates to the NFL, we have announced, very aggressively, that we are going to look at all of our season ticket prices. ... I believe about three-quarters of the league will hold their ticket prices flat.

"They're going to have to work harder and be more creative and offer extended terms, in some cases, to our fans to allow them to try to get through this difficult cycle.

"Unfortunately ... many of our clubs are having the difficult process of letting go employees. There is uncertainty out there, and we have to cut our costs so that we can continue to keep this business a successful business and grow this business at some point."

The union claims there has been plenty of growth and the owners had no reason to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement that was supposed to run through 2012, but now will end after 2010. On Thursday, a union-commissioned study showed the average value of franchises has grown from $288 million to $1.04 billion during the past decade, and that teams averaged a $24.7 million profit in the last year -- even as the economy took a turn for the worse.

Goodell disputed those numbers and defended the owners' decision to opt out of the CBA, which assures players about 60 percent of the applicable revenues. If a new deal is not reached after the upcoming season, the following year would be played without a cap. The union says if the salary cap disappears, it won't accept one later.

Phone messages seeking comment from NFLPA acting executive director Richard Berthelsen were not immediately returned.

The league hasn't had a labor stoppage since 1987.

"There's a lot of fiction in that report," Goodell said. "The $24 million in profits is completely inaccurate. We understand our numbers. Ownership has spent a lot of time evaluating the current CBA and determined it is better to terminate that agreement and come up with a new one that will be beneficial to the clubs and players.

"I'm optimistic we will be able to sit down and reach an agreement with our players to allow the league to grow."

He also challenged the NFLPA's claim that player salaries automatically would go down under the current CBA should league profits also plummet.

"That is fiction," Goodell said. "There is a rule in the CBA that the cap can't go down. It's a long-standing rule. The cap continues to grow; it will be up to $123 million this year."

The union is in the midst of appointing a successor to Gene Upshaw, the longtime executive director who died in August. Once that happens, negotiations can begin.

"Their leadership will be critical in making sure we continue to grow this great game," Goodell said, "and we do what's right for our players as well as the game, as well as for the ownership."

One area Goodell found to be going in the right direction was player safety. He viewed tapes of the second half of the season that showed dangerous tackling techniques were reduced after a series of fines for illegal hits.

"We have to do whatever we can to remove any of the techniques and any of the tactics that can unnecessarily risk injury to those players," he said. "We have very aggressively done that."

On other topics, Goodell:

» Indicated the Competition Committee will look at tweaking overtime, perhaps moving up the kickoff to serve as something of an equalizer when a team wins the coin toss. He said 47 percent of teams winning the OT toss won the game on the first possession this season.

» Noted the league has shared research data on treating concussions with the Department of Defense.

» Said he's hopeful of staging a regular-season game in Mexico in 2010 as part of the league's initiative to play games that count outside the United States.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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