Officials no substitute for pass protection

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave the only response he could logically provide when reporters asked him Wednesday about using replacement officiating crews during the exhibition season.

There's no heightened risk to players, Goodell said, because safety is "obviously such a focus for us" that replacement crews have been "training on that basis."

Well, of course the NFL is emphasizing safety measures to these replacement officials while retired players file lawsuits seeking damages for their physical troubles. That doesn't mean officials unfamiliar with the speed of the NFL game will handle their responsibilities as well as officials with decades of experience. They could be more likely in the short term to miss calls endangering players.

But players are the most important variables in the safety equation. Officials can talk to them about refraining from dangerous tactics banned by the rulebook. Officials can toss penalty flags after the fact. But if a player launches himself at a defenseless receiver or dives into the legs of a vulnerable quarterback, not even the best, most experienced official can stop it from happening.

The Arizona Cardinals should feel good about the safety environment heading into their exhibition opener against New Orleans on Sunday. The Saints have been under scrutiny all off season for their bounty program. They'll be under scrutiny Sunday.

The Cardinals need their offensive line to protect quarterback Kevin Kolb. They need Kolb to protect himself by getting rid of the football or sidestepping pressure. A correctly administered rulebook probably isn't going to spare Kolb from the hits that threaten quarterbacks.

Longer term, precedent suggests the NFL and its officials will settle their dispute right around Week 1, and this impasse will be forgotten, just like the others.