CHARLOTTE -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell visited Charlotte on Tuesday and spoke at the Bronko Nagurski Charlotte Touchdown Club luncheon. But his most important talk occurred Tuesday morning when he met for about an hour with Carolina Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson, who is at home recovering from heart transplant surgery on February 1.
"We had a great visit," Goodell said. "He is making great progress. He is grateful for your prayers and support. That means a great deal to him. He's important to the NFL and his family is important to the NFL. I know the Big Cat will be roaring soon."
Goodell's relationship with Richardson goes back more than 20 years when Goodell worked closely for the league on the expansion process that awarded Richardson and the Carolinas a franchise in 1993. The two have continued to work together on a number of projects since then as Goodell has ascended to commissioner and Richardson has become an influential owner.
"I know that he is anxious to get back in the saddle," Goodell said. He's pretty focused on issues that are facing the league, facing the Panthers."
One of the issues facing the NFL and the Players Asociation is the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2010 season. The 2009 season will be played with a salary cap. If there is no new agreement before the 2010 season, that season will be played without a salary cap under rules that also limit the free agency rights of the players.
"The first thing is there has to be a better understanding of the circumstances that we are all operating in. We've been fortunate to have labor peace with our players. I think it's good for the game, good for the owners, good for the players and most importantly good for the fans. But I think what has to happen, particularly in the current environment that we are in, is we have to understand each other's issues and what we do to improve the system," Goodell said.
If a new labor agreement cannot be reached, the threat of a work stoppage would loom for 2011. But with two years to negotiate, Goodell is confident that the two sides can come to an accord.
"I think both of us are motivated to get a long-term deal that's good for the players and good for the owners and most importantly good for the game," he said. "We have time to deal with and address these issues and get a system that works for the game and works for all parties. But we recognize the responsibility of playing the game of football, because that is what the fans want."
Another topic being discussed is expanding the regular season from 16 games to 17 or 18. Doing so would eliminate one or two preseason games. Goodell said the impetus for this potential change is feedback from the fans.
"It is clear to me that our preseason games don't meet the NFL standard of quality, and we need to adjust what we're doing," Goodell said. "We also don't believe from a football perspective that you do need four preseason games to get ready for a football season. It's something that we believe is positive for our fans. It will improve the quality of what we're doing."
One item the league is not considering is playing the Super Bowl overseas in London. However, a restructured schedule with 17 or 18 regular-season games would allow for the possibility of playing a second regular-season game overseas, maybe as early as 2010.
"The fan reaction we've had in London has been extraordinary. We would like to feed that passion," Goodell said. "We have a great fan base in the UK. There have been discussions of taking the second game and playing it in another market in the UK. That's something that we'll evaluate."
These and other items will be on the agenda when NFL owners gather for league meetings next week in Florida. One would assume that Goodell and Richardson discussed some of them during their visit.
"As I said, I think the best news is he's focused on Panther business, NFL business, and that's a good sign for all of us," Goodell said.