ATLANTA — The NFL's move to make thigh and knee pads mandatory equipment for the 2013 season already has drawn criticism from the guys who will have to wear them.
Not long after Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said at an owners meeting Tuesday that the league can apply the decision unilaterally, the players union and several members expressed their dissatisfaction.
First, the NFL Players Association argued that the move should be negotiated.
"Any change in working conditions is a collectively bargained issue," the union said in a statement. "While the NFL is focused on one element of health and safety today, the NFLPA believes that health and safety requires a comprehensive approach and commitment. We are engaged in and monitor many different issues, such as players' access to medical records, prescription usage and the situation with professional football's first responders, NFL referees.
"We always look forward to meeting with the NFL to discuss any and all matters related to player health and safety."
Then the players spoke up.
"I hate that," Raiders linebacker Travis Goethel said. "I don't want that at all. I don't like having anything restricting my movement in my legs. If you get hit in the thigh, it really doesn't do too much to help you out."
Added Broncos cornerback Drayton Florence:
"My opinion is that I don't want to wear them, but you have to follow the rules and policies. I just think that's a way for them to kind of cover themselves with things that have been going on in the past" such as concussions suffered in collisions with knees or thighs.
Commissioner Roger Goodell can't see any downside to extra protection. He noted that the NFL and union have been discussing hip, knee and thigh pads for three years.
"I believe the technology has improved, the pads are far better than a decade ago, they allow better performance and are more protective. Every other level of football uses the pads."
Goodell pointed out something a Nike executive told him recently: NBA players are wearing more pads from the hips down than NFL players.
"There is something wrong with that," Goodell said.
Should a player not have the pads on when he enters a game in 2013, he will be sent off the field by a game official.
"It's the same as if he ran on without a helmet," McKay said. "It is a safety rule."
The pads rule would not go into effect on the field until next year so equipment manufacturers can work on safety and comfort.
Goodell said he expects evidence in the Saints bounties case would be made public after all the player appeals and grievances have been heard. Release of any documents also could be delayed by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Goodell after the commissioner suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season.
Goodell said he has "not spent a lot of time" on the lawsuit in which Vilma contends the commissioner made false statements that tarnished Vilma's reputation and hindered his ability to earn a living playing football.
"I've been around this league for 30 years and you are going to make decisions that will not be unanimous, it just doesn't happen, particularly in a game where there is a lot of emotion, a lot of passion," Goodell said. "What I have to do is what is in best interests of the game long term.
"You watch Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue, you are part of the decision-making process, and you see how they go about it. You watch other leagues, try to take in every perspective.
"You don't worry about a popularity contest. You can't."
The owners also voted to move the trading deadline from after Week 6 to after Week 8, and to allow one "marquee" player placed on injured reserve to return to practice after the sixth week of the schedule and to the lineup after the eighth week. That player must be on the 53-man roster after the final preseason cut.
Terrell Suggs, the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, could fall into that category. Suggs recently underwent surgery for a torn Achilles tendon. If the Ravens believe Suggs can make it back by midseason, as the linebacker has predicted, they could use the IR special designation for him.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft likes the adjustment because he knows firsthand how devastating an injury to a star player can be.
"It's good because I think it keeps the excitement in the game," Kraft said. "I know when we lost Tom Brady there was a feeling he could have come back at the end of the year. It would have been great for the fans, and I think every team has someone in that category."
Goodell said the league is closer to a decision on what to do with the Pro Bowl, which he called "not a competitive game" in January. He wants more discussions with the players about how to improve the quality of the game, but dropping it entirely still is possible.
"The issue is we recognize it is an all-star game, but we also believe fans expect more from an NFL game," he said. "If we believe we can achieve that, we want to give them every opportunity to do that."
Only New Orleans, site of next year's Super Bowl, and Honolulu are being considered if the Pro Bowl is held.
The league approved the Buffalo Bills playing one regular-season game every year from 2013-17 in Toronto, extending that international series. Expansion of the international series in London could come as early as next year, Goodell added.
While Cowboys and Redskins executives were in the owners meetings they learned that their grievance against the NFL and the NFLPA over reductions in their salary caps was dismissed. Dallas loses $10 million over this season and next and Washington loses $36 million.
Washington general manager Bruce Allen said the team is "obviously disappointed." Asked how losing another $18 million might inhibit the Redskins, he said: "We'll see. We'll have time to talk about it."
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver, and Sports Writers Charles Odum in Atlanta and Josh Dubow in Oakland contributed to this story.
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