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Reading between the lines on Roger Goodell’s comments

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Roger Goodell spoke to the media Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings in Houston.Eric Christian Smith

The NFL owners held their quarterly meetings over two days in Houston this past week, and commissioner Roger Goodell held a news conference to update the public on the status of several of the big stories surrounding the league.

Goodell can sometimes be a bit evasive and corporate in his answers, requiring us to search a little deeper to discover his true meaning and hidden messages.

So let's fire up the Goodell Translator and figure out what Goodell really said:

News item: The NFL's television ratings are down about 10 percent across the board this year, with the most significant hits in the prime-time windows on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday nights. Last week's Jets-Cardinals game on "Monday Night Football" was down 35 percent from a Giants-Eagles game at this time last year.


"There are a lot of factors to be considered. We don't make excuses," Goodell said. "We look at it and we try to figure out what's changing . . . We don't think we've lost viewers. I think when you look at ratings you have to go a little deeper than that. It is viewers but it's also how long they are engaging for. A lot of times people will leave a game for whatever reason — whether they're going to go to other programming or whether the game isn't that competitive. Those are all factors that happen."

Translation: "We're a little worried that this might not be a one-year anomaly."

Our take: The presidential election and the cord-cutting trend are significant factors. But the biggest, by far, is the dilution of the NFL's product.

The Thursday night games are awful because of the lack of preparation — road teams are only averaging 16.7 points, and four of the six games have been blowouts. Practice limits in the new collective bargaining agreement have made it difficult for young players to develop, particularly quarterbacks. The league hasn't done a good job of marketing the next generation of players, concerned more with calling taunting penalties than letting players market their individuality. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Cam Newton might be the only stars who can still carry a broadcast.


The RedZone Channel is a problem, highlighting some of the biggest deficiencies of a regular broadcast — the incredible amount of downtime in a three-hour game, the inconsistencies in officiating, and poor coaching and execution. It's really hard to watch a Jets-Cardinals game from start to finish after experiencing the constant thrills of RedZone Channel.

And the national TV matchups have been awful. The NFL tries to schedule marquee matchups for Sunday night, but the Thursday night games in particular are a dumping ground for bad games to help the NFL satisfy its "one national TV game for every team" rule. A Jaguars-Titans matchup can be hidden at 1 p.m. on Sunday, but it's going to be another Thursday night slop-fest this week between two teams that no one cares about. The NFL is not putting its best foot forward in these national TV games.

News item: Raiders owner Mark Davis said he plans to file relocation papers in January to move his team to Las Vegas, which recently approved $750 million in public funds to build a stadium.

"There's still a great deal of information we need to gather with respect to the circumstances that we see in Las Vegas, the opportunities and also the challenges," Goodell said. "So those are the things that we'll look at through the committee and report back to them maybe as early as December, but more likely later than that . . . We would love to have the Raiders stay in Oakland."


Translation: "Not so fast, Mark."

Our take: Davis will need the approval of 24 of 32 owners to make the move, and as we wrote last May, there are significant concerns about the Raiders leaving the Bay Area, the nation's sixth-largest TV market, which has a ton of corporate wealth and important technology partners, for Las Vegas, which is the 42nd-ranked TV market and has never had a professional sports team.

But if a stadium solution in Oakland — from the city, private donors or perhaps with an investment from the NFL — doesn't present itself between now and January, the owners may have no choice but to approve a move, most likely for the 2019 season.

News item: Taunting penalties have increased from 11 at this time last year to 21 this year.

"I don't think they are being officiated inconsistently," Goodell said. "People may not like the rule. They might not like the line that's been drawn, but we believe it's part of being a professional league."

Translation: "We can't give an inch, because players will take a mile."

Our take: The celebrations can get out of hand if they aren't policed, and can often lead to fights — remember Terrell Owens starting a brawl with the Cowboys after stomping on the star at midfield?


But the penalties for the bow-and-arrow celebration, or against Vernon Davis for shooting the football like a basketball, are patently absurd. They affect the game — the Eagles scored a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff following Davis's penalty — and make villains out of players instead of celebrating their creativity. The taunting rules need to be loosened for next year.

News item: Bill Belichick said he is done with the Microsoft Surface tablets and will go back to using hard copies of photographs on the sidelines.

"We are proud of our relationship with Microsoft," Goodell said. "We think they have a great product and they've done a great job in advancing technology into our game and influencing our game."

Translation: "Thanks, Bill."

Our take: The NFL will continue to stand by the Surface tablets thanks to a five-year, $400 million deal signed in 2014. But the tablets are generally considered far inferior to iPads, and don't provide much use for the coaches if they're only being used for still photos. The NFL tinkered this preseason with allowing coaches to use the tablets to watch video on the sidelines, and the league may have to allow it during next year's regular season to give Belichick a reason to go back to using the tablets.


Brown case is Rice all over again

Josh Brown won’t see the field on Sunday.Bill Kostroun

The one-game suspension for Giants kicker Josh Brown's domestic violence incidents seemed fishy from the start.


What happened to the six-game baseline punishment that the NFL so proudly boasted about in 2014 when it "strengthened" its domestic violence policy in the wake of the Ray Rice incident?

As we wrote in August: "Did [Lisa] Friel and her department really conduct full diligence into the investigation? Was the investigation affected by the fact that Friel is a devoted Giants season ticket-holder whose basement 'is a blue-and-red shrine to the Jints,' according to the New York Times? The NFL has to come up with a better explanation than 'we tried, but no one cooperated' for its policies on domestic violence to be taken seriously."

Yet here we are again, two years after Rice. The league is suffering yet another PR embarrassment because of its lack of diligence, and is trying to justify its incompetence with excuses about non-cooperation.

The Giants knew about some of the incidents, but didn't know the extent of them, owner John Mara said. The NFL will get it right the second time by reopening its investigation, the league stated.

Please. This is literally the Rice situation all over again. The NFL learned nothing.

Court documents released Wednesday by the King County (Wash.) sheriff's office revealed that Brown admitted to a lengthy history of physical and emotional violence against his then-wife, Molly.

The NFL blamed King County for not responding to several requests for information. Thursday, sheriff John Urquhart fired back, stating that the NFL barely tried to contact his office looking for information. A man named Robert Agnew submitted a generic public disclosure request with a generic Comcast e-mail address, and never stated that he was with NFL security. And the NFL did submit a formal request for public records on May 26, 2015.

But where was Friel, the former New York City sex crimes prosecutor who was specifically hired to lead domestic violence investigations? Why didn't the NFL or the Giants do more to find out what happened? As Deadspin noted, many of these accusations were available in court documents from a separate divorce case involving the Browns.

"Since this is a hot-button item in the NFL, since it's the NFL, we probably would have told them orally a little bit more about what we had," Urquhart said. "We would have told them, 'Be careful, NFL, don't rush into this. This case is blossoming way more than what happened on May 22 of 2015. We're getting more information, be careful.' Again, we're not going to give them specifics, but we certainly would have cautioned the NFL to be careful about what they were going to do."

This is the exact same thing that happened two years ago with Rice. The NFL under-punishes the player (either as a favor to the team owner, or out of Roger Goodell's tone-deafness to domestic violence), suffers total embarrassment when the media releases new information, and the NFL vows to go back and clean up its own mess.

Brown went on the commissioner's exempt list on Friday, removing him from the Giants' roster and giving him a paid vacation.

What a joke. Mara should be ashamed that the team didn't cut Brown in August, and for not doing so immediately on Thursday. And Goodell continues to dig his own grave with his consistent mishandling of these important issues.

The NFL's domestic violence cases are horrific enough on their own. But just as bad is the league's inability to treat these cases with the seriousness they deserve.


Checking in on the home team

A couple of Patriots tidbits:

 Rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett went on injured reserve after undergoing thumb surgery Oct. 7, but believe it or not, we’re told there’s a decent chance that the Patriots end up using their one IR-return spot on Brissett.

Why use it on a third-string quarterback when you already have Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo? For one, the Patriots have a ton of respect for Brissett for the way he played through his injury for 1½ games and took a beating for the team while it waited for Brady to return.

And two, they don't have other options right now. The only two other players on IR are tight end Greg Scruggs, a street free agent who suffered a knee injury in practice, and linebacker Jonathan Freeny, who is out for the year. Freeny is set to have surgery to repair torn labrums in both shoulders, according to league sources.

IR-return rules allow players to come back after six weeks, and Brissett was given a 4-6-week timetable following surgery. If the Patriots don't suffer any significant injuries in the next four weeks, expect to see Brissett back later this season.

 Duron Harmon is often considered an afterthought when listing the Patriots’ upcoming free agents, a list that includes Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Martellus Bennett, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler, and Logan Ryan.

But listening to Bill Belichick glow about Harmon on Friday makes us think that the Patriots would like to keep him in the long-term plans. Harmon has played 53 percent of defensive snaps this year and has become the team's true free safety, as Devin McCourty has been used as a cornerback and in-the-box defender much more frequently this season.

Belichick praised Harmon's quiet leadership, noted that he's always doing extra work in the weight room in the offseason, and is a dependable communicator.

"He's there every day, very consistent, very dependable, and so when he speaks, I think that's where the leadership comes from. There's a trust," Belichick said. "If he says something, you can count on it. He'll be there, he'll come through, and he'll deliver it."

Extra points

The Panthers' decision to release Josh Norman last offseason is looking more foolish each week, especially since the Panthers were in fine salary cap space even when accounting for Norman's franchise tag. The 1-5 Panthers are 25th in pass defense, and are the first team since the 1970 merger to allow a pair of 450-yard passing performances in the same season, allowing 503 yards to Matt Ryan and 465 to Drew Brees in a 15-day span . . . Time to jinx the Patriots again. They are one of two teams (Minnesota) not to have thrown an interception all season (the Vikings have played one fewer game). And the Patriots are the only team not to have allowed a pass play of 40-plus yards this year. Oakland leads the NFL with nine . . . I hope Hall of Fame voters focus on more than just fantasy stats when reviewing the careers of some of today's receivers. In his first year without Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford has 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, and career highs in passer rating (106.0) and completion percentage (68.9). And Brandon Marshall, for all of his sparkling statistics, has never made the playoffs in his 11-year career, and his Jets are now 1-5 . . . Pretty great to see the Broncos and Brock Osweiler talk a little smack in advance of Sunday's reunion. "We want to kill him," linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "It sounds like they miss me," Osweiler quipped . . . One reason the Jaguars are stuck in the mud at 2-3? They're converting only 27 percent of third downs on offense. No one else in the league is below 32 percent . . . Unprompted, Roger Goodell noted at the owners' meetings about the collective bargaining agreement, "[from] the player's perspective, we think it's working incredibly well," and "it's obviously led to increases in compensation. We've seen over a billion dollars go into the cap the past three years, a billion and a half when you include benefits." But Goodell is really working for the owners here. Goodell's mission: Convincing the players that the current CBA should be extended past 2021. Because this CBA has been GREAT for the owners . . . The NFL's trade deadline is Nov. 1 at 4 p.m. Expect Trader Bill Belichick to be busy, though probably not with any deals involving Garoppolo.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.