NEW ORLEANS -- NFL Players Association officials described the New Orleans Saints bountygate matter that played out over the last year, and the resulting procedural problems, as something they took "personally" during their news conference Thursday.
After meeting with the media, union president Domonique Foxworth elaborated, saying he's getting a strong push for players to challenge NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's power over discipline in the wake of the Saints saga.
"We've already asked the league to revisit it, a number of times, to revisit neutral arbitration and commissioner discipline," Foxworth told NFL.com. "Our players are intent on making moves in that direction, and any avenue that it requires us to make that move, we're willing to take because it's not my responsibility to decide the direction of this organization. It's my responsibility to hear that direction and lead in that direction. And that's where they want to go."
Union sources have suggested that negotiations over HGH testing could provide the opening needed for the NFLPA to make a run at the commissioner's appellate power over penalties relating to conduct detrimental. The NFLPA is currently pushing for a neutral arbitrator to oversee the entire drug policy, which include some areas of conduct detrimental -- one example being DUIs. Some in the union have interpreted that a victory on that front could lead to a more broad challenge on conduct detrimental.
Neither NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith nor Foxworth would comment on how HGH testing talks might open that door, but Foxworth reiterated that he was willing to take "any avenue" to help the players pursue changes. The NFL has steadfastly held that the matter of Goodell's power over conduct detrimental is a closed issue, settled in the 2011 CBA talks.
But the union representatives were clear that the drug policy talks weren't the only way they can reopen the discussion.
"The collective-bargaining process never ends," Smith told NFL.com. "For example, in the old 2006 deal there were 50 side-letter agreements. So this idea that somehow the process ends when we signed the deal in July, that somehow you stopped negotiating the issues is false. That's No. 1. No. 2, commissioner discipline remains an important issue with our players."
Smith continued that, in his view, the Saints case was absolutely a valid reason to look again at the rules over the commissioner's power.
"The irony of us having a Super Bowl in New Orleans, after what we went through on the league's investigation isn't lost on anyone on our side of the table," he said. "So when it comes to issues of HGH, when it comes to issues of fines, we never engage in isolated issues of collective bargaining. There are a number of big issues out there for us to talk about, and we'll continue to talk about them."
Smith declined to go so far as to say that there's any plan in place to move forward on the subject.
But it's clearly something that players have on their minds. As such, Foxworth conceded that it is something the union has to consider moving on.
"Negotiations are never closed," Foxworth said. "When there's an issue that effects them negatively, we've shown a willingness to cooperate. And they've done the same thing, honestly. The CBA is never written in stone. Amendments are available, especially those that improve it for both sides. And I think this is something that would help improve it for both sides."
The players, Smith and two Harvard doctors brought to discuss a $100 million union grant that will fund a new joint health-and-safety project spent most of the news conference discussing the concussion crisis and other related subjects.
"This is important to us," Smith said, "and for obvious reasons."