Goodell: Changes making NFL safer

NEW ORLEANS -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he believes there will be an agreement soon with the players' union for testing for human growth hormone.

At his annual state of the NFL news conference on Friday, Goodell said he expects an agreement for the tests to be reached in time for the start of the 2013 season.

Goodell noted that the league and union agreed to the testing two years ago in the collective bargaining agreement. He said it is important to have testing to retain the integrity and the brand of the league.

Goodell touched on a number of topics Friday, including player safety. He said he intends to keep pursuing suspensions to discipline players who violate player-safety rules with actions such as hits to the head.

"Suspensions get through to the players," Goodell said. "We have seen an escalation in the discipline because we are trying to take these techniques out of the game. I stand by our record, because I think we have made those changes and have made the game safer. But I think we are going to have to see discipline continue to escalate, particularly on repeat offenders."

Goodell said he welcomed President Barack Obama's comments in the Feb. 11 issue of The New Republic about player safety because he believes the league is making strides to make the game safer. Goodell said the NFL would have neurosurgeons on the sidelines at games and will expand postseason physicals to make them extensive three-day procedures.

Goodell also said the league is at work on establishing higher standards for playing surfaces -- likely a reaction to the terrible condition of the Washington Redskins' FedEx Field in the wild-card playoff game Jan. 6 against the Seattle Seahawks.

"I believe the changes we're making to our game are making football safer and making it better," Goodell said.

Other topics included:

• Goodell said the No. 1 issue in the game is taking the head out of tackles.

He said players are using their heads more than in the past, perhaps because better helmets and face masks lead them to take more risks.

Goodell said progress has been made in the past couple of years in eliminating helmet-to-helmet hits, but that players need to get back to using shoulders and arms properly in tackles.

In his words, there is a strike zone in football, and coaches and players need to recognize it.

• Goodell says his biggest regret about the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal is that he can't get everyone to recognize bounties need to be eliminated from the game.

Goodell said he hasn't been able to make the point clearly enough with the players' union and others that the league will not tolerate pay for hard hits.

He said the league, coaches, executives and players all share the responsibility for eliminating bounties from football, and vowed to be "incredibly relentless" about pushing the point moving forward.

• Goodell made light of the reception he's gotten in New Orleans, where he is unpopular with Saints fans because of the bounty scandal.

Goodell joked that his picture is in every restaurant, he has a float in the Mardi Gras parade and there's even a voodoo doll.

In a more serious vein, he said that while he gets comments from fans around town, everyone in New Orleans has been receptive and that the city is a great place to have a Super Bowl.

He said he welcomed the passion of fans supporting the team and that they were a big part of the game.

• Goodell said he wants a "new generation" of the Rooney Rule because "we didn't have the outcomes we wanted" when none of 15 recent coach and general manager jobs were given to a minority candidate.

• Goodell said next season's two games in London already are sold out.

Information from ESPN.com's Dan Graziano and The Associated Press was used in this report.