By Barry Wilner AP Pro Football Writer
ATLANTA — The NFL made thigh and knee pads mandatory equipment for the 2013 season, something the players’ union was not pleased with.
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said Tuesday at an owners meeting that because this is a playing rule, the league can apply it unilaterally.
“We have a vote of the membership and can implement,” McKay said. “Some of us felt we were remiss that we took it out of the rule book — high school and college makes it mandatory — and in our mind that is how it should be and will be in 2013.
“We have some work to do with the union.”
McKay said the league will meet with NFL Players Association representatives on the issue, something they have discussed in the past.
But the NFLPA 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.”
The pads rule would not go into effect on the field until next year so equipment manufacturers can work on safety and comfort.
Commissioner Roger Goodell couldn’t see any negatives to adding the thigh and knee pads.
“We have raised the issue of mandatory pads for at least three years now,” he said. “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.”
Former All-Pro safety Troy Vincent, now an NFL vice president, explained why there could be pushback from the players.
“It’s psychological. Less pads you are faster, skinnier, that’s just the way I was introduced to the (pro) game,” he said. “It’s a culture shift. They will adjust.”
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, 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.”
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.
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 in 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” last 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.