PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -Offseason? What offseason?
As the calendar turns to April, the NFL has enough issues to keep it busy right through the draft at the end of the month. And then some.
At this week's owners meetings, the myriad topics range from the collective bargaining agreement, in light of the slumping economy, to a series of rules changes, including allowing helmet communications on defense. Don't forget reseeding of playoff qualifiers so that a wild-card team with a better record than a division winner could host a first-round game.
Or the status of suspended Titans cornerback Pacman Jones, who might be on the verge of joining the Cowboys in a trade, even though his availability for the 2008 season is uncertain.
Plus the lingering shadow of Spygate and what information former Patriots employee Matt Walsh has about the team possibly making illegal tapes of opponents that commissioner Roger Goodell is unaware of.
So forget any time in the Florida sun during these meetings. Owners, general managers and coaches have full plates long before they sit down at their draft tables to restock their rosters.
After announcing the 32 owners unanimously approved the sale of 50 percent of the Miami Dolphins to New York real estate magnate Stephen Ross, Goodell got into meatier topics Monday. Such as Jones.
``I'll make a decision prior to the start of training camp,'' Goodell said of possibly reinstating Jones, who was suspended for last season for a series of off-field incidents. ``I have seen some of his recent comments ... and some of those comments were encouraging. I have always said he has to accept responsibility for his actions.
``Dallas, they know the consequences (of a trade) and the status of the player. I don't feel any obligation to do more than I said, to reconsider his status. I have made no commitment.''
Nor has Goodell been able to set up a meeting with Walsh, whose lawyers are seeking some sort of protection for him before he speaks to the NFL.
``We are making progress, I think,'' Goodell said. ``Matt Walsh is free to speak to anybody, but he has asked for some conditions. We have met with over 50 people and he is the only one indicating he has conditions. He has implied through the media that he may have info I have not been aware of. If he does have (it), I would be anxious to see it.''
Goodell is more anxious about a shaky economy that figures to impact the CBA. Amid speculation team owners could opt out of the current deal in November - freeing the way for a 2010 season without a salary cap - Goodell emphasized the potential need to restructure the contract.
``We are doing a tremendous amount of analysis around the league agreement to understand the true impact of the deal,'' Goodell said. ``One thing we are starting to realize is that it has swung considerably toward the players. We're doing our analysis to understand the ramifications of that.''
Goodell said he will ``absolutely'' contact NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw before November, ``and I anticipate something will happen just before the season or in the fall.''
Because the 32 teams have so much debt through loans - they've already agreed to collectively reduce the debt by $30 million - Goodell fears their ability to pay spiraling salaries could be compromised.
Then again, who is negotiating those salaries with the players? The 32 owners, of course.
``It is clearly between the owners and the union at this point,'' Goodell added. ``I think the owners have analyzed this and have a very strong collective view toward this.
``When you shrink the margins, at some point in time the agreement becomes untenable. We have to be very cautious here, and the players need to recognize those risks and the tremendous costs.
``We knew when we entered this CBA that the pendulum would swing the way of the players.''
The NFL's competition committee is investigating ways of strengthening the lead-up to the playoffs and Super Bowl with a reseeding proposal. The plan would give wild-card teams a chance for a home game in the opening round of the playoffs if their record is better than a division winner. Last year, the Giants would have hosted Tampa Bay instead of visiting Florida in the NFC, and the Jaguars would have been home against the Steelers instead of going to Pittsburgh.
Both visitors won anyway and, of course, the Giants wound up winning the Super Bowl.
``We started discussing this issue in '02 or '03,'' said Falcons president and competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay. ``We're still concerned about what it means late in a season, keeping as many games competitive as we can.''
Several clubs, including the Buccaneers, sat out regulars at the end of the schedule, rendering some games as little more than exhibitions.
McKay believes it's critical to discuss reseeding even if it doesn't pass this year; 24 yes votes are required for passage.
``We'll never get in the business of telling people who to play or not play,'' McKay said. ``We felt like we don't have many other options late in the season except to incentivize.''
McKay and Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the other co-chairman of the competition committee, are eager to get the defensive communications device passed. Last year, it was defeated in part because the committee didn't have a backup plan in case the defensive player with the communications helmet got hurt; it doesn't want two players on the field with the helmet considering only the quarterback has one on offense.
The current proposal calls for a second player to be designated to get the device if the first player gets hurt or leaves the game. No specific position must be designated for the device.
``We feel it's a sound backup system,'' Fisher said.

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