Goodell mulling honors limits for suspended players

NEW ORLEANS -- Commissioner Roger Goodell said Saturday night that he has been in discussions with officials from the NFL Players Association about the eligibility of league players who have been suspended to earn so-called "honors" like the Pro Bowl squad.

Responding to a query from ESPN.com, Goodell, who was in New Orleans for the divisional-round playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints, acknowledged the question is a matter of concern for the league.

"The integrity of the league is something we're always concerned about," Goodell said.

Several high-profile players, most notably Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor and Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said recently that they didn't feel San Diego outside linebacker
Shawne Merriman should have been voted to the AFC Pro Bowl squad. Merriman, the league's sack champion, was suspended by the NFL for four games for a violation of the league's steroid policy.

The discussions with the union, which Goodell said have been productive, apparently predate the remarks made about Merriman. Goodell said he will likely seek the input of the influential competition committee on the matter of eligibility for honors for players suspended in a given year.

One sticking point for the league, however, is that the NFL has little control over most honors. The NFL does control the Pro Bowl balloting, but selection of most all-star and All-Pro teams, and awards such as most valuable player, is done by the media.

Also, many players have bonuses and incentives written into their contracts for things like Pro Bowl appearances, and that financial component could be an issue at which the union and executive director Gene Upshaw might balk.

"As you know," Goodell said, "there are about 101 details."

A report Saturday in the Washington Post indicated that Goodell is also close to an agreement with the players' union to stiffen the steroid-testing policy.

"We're very close," Goodell said, according to the Post. "I hope it's very soon."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.