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NFL personal conduct policy changes are still just talk

Roger Goodell and the owners discussed changes to the NFL's handling of off the field issues, but remain far from a resolution.

Alex Goodlett

NEW YORK CITY -- The last time Roger Goodell emerged from his lair on Park Avenue to talk to the media he promised to be better when it came to domestic violence and personal conduct among the NFL, its players and employees. On Wednesday evening, the commissioner finally presented some glimpse of how the league planned to "get its house in order." Sort of.

Goodell and the owners spent the afternoon tucked away in a ballroom at The Conrad in Manhattan discussing how the league would go about changing its mysterious and arbitrary personal conduct policy as well as the major questions that will have to be tackled as part of those changes.

In short, they talked. They talked for the better part of five hours about the league's role in educating players and other personnel about domestic violence as well as crafting the policy to deal with those incidents as they happen.

One of the main issues the league will have to deal with is balancing due process with protecting the game. In other words, the league is trying to figure out what it can do with a player or employee who has violated the the personal conduct policy in a public, obvious manner that threatens the image of individual teams and the league itself.

"Sometimes that puts you in a difficult position," Goodell said. "When there is strong evidence to the fact that a violation occurred, the question is whether there should be some type of interim step, like a paid leave."

Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy are sitting out indefinitely while their cases are still pending in the courts. They're on the commissioner's exempt list. They're also collecting their full salaries, which are counting against teams' salary cap.

Paid leave is one option the commissioner said has been discussed. He also noted that the commissioner's exempt list will remain available to teams, at least until the new policy is finalized. Beyond that, Goodell, owners, the Players Association, outside consultants and a small platoon of new hires focused exclusively on the issues of domestic violence and related issues are still just talking, trying to get their house in order.

"It's certainly a challenge. These are complex issues," Goodell said. "There's a lot that goes into these decisions."

Prior to Wednesday's meeting a memo from Goodell to owners raised the issue of an independent panel to handle player conduct issues. That too was among the issues discussed, but it was clear from the generalities handed out at Goodell's press conference that the league still has a long way to go before the issue is settled.

The biggest surprise of the day was Goodell's revelation that changes to how the personal conduct policy is enforced have been debated "for well over a year," specifically his role in the process of disciplining players. That timeline means the subject's been up for discussion before the Ray Rice incident put the national spotlight on how the NFL handles those matters.

"We've been debating for well over a year about whether there's a better process, a process that's more effective , more efficient, it's fair, it's something that will can allow us to deal with this complexity in a way that we'll be satisfied as a league, players will be satisfied, and our employees will be satisfied.

"Everything is on the table," the commissioner repeated.

Removing the commissioner from the process completely, however, seems unlikely.

"I wouldn't say there was a consensus other than when things affect the integrity of the game, I believe that is something that ownership feels is important for the commissioner to retain that authority."

Goodell did sound optimistic that the NFL will reach a resolution on its personal conduct policy by the Super Bowl, his original deadline. Until then, expect plenty more talking.