Roger Goodell open to changing his role in NFL player discipline

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he is open to changing his role in the league's process for player discipline, admitting that it has "become extremely time-consuming."

Goodell spoke Tuesday in an interview with ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike and addressed a number of topics, primarily his role in the "Deflategate" case and the recently overturned suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman nullified Brady's four-game suspension last week, criticizing Goodell's brand of "industrial justice."

Goodell defended the NFL's position in the case Tuesday and affirmed the league's decision to appeal Berman's ruling, but also said he has reconsidered his overall role in player discipline.

"I am open to changing my role," he said. "It's become extremely time-consuming, and I have to be focused on other issues. I've discussed this with owners."

Goodell acknowledged that the NFL needs a "better discipline system," suggesting that the league could institute designated discipline officers or panels.

"I want to get to a better discipline situation," he said. "I have had discussions with the [players'] union. ... The courts are not where we should be having these discussions."

Goodell indicated, however, that any change would come within the initial discipline process, not with the way appeals are handled.

"We believe that the standards of the NFL are important to uphold," he said. "We believe that you don't delegate that responsibility or those standards."

The commissioner said he spoke to union chief DeMaurice Smith before Brady's decision came down about making changes to the league's collective bargaining agreement, but maintained that the NFL resists third-party arbitration.

"A designated discipline officer or panel to make the initial decision would make for a better system," he said. "But we also have resistance to third-party arbitration."

Later on Tuesday, in an interview with The Dan Le Batard Show, Smith scoffed at Goodell's resistance to neutral arbitration, pointing out that in the Ray Rice case, in which the Rice was accused of domestic violence, a third-party arbitrator was appointed by the NFL's Management Council.

"This isn't some sort of crossing a canyon, this isn't some huge Mount Everest for them to get over. They've appointed a neutral arbitrator in a personal conduct case last year. They've appointed a neutral arbitrator when it has gone to drug cases. They've appointed a neutral arbitrator when it has come to on-field fines," Smith said.

Before Berman's ruling on Thursday, Goodell had already faced heavy criticism for his handling of cases involving Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson (who was accused of child injury) and former Baltimore Ravens running back Rice.

In his ruling, Berman addressed the NFL's "broad" policy against conduct detrimental to the league, calling it "legally misplaced." He specifically referenced the Peterson and Rice cases, noting that in both, the players were disciplined only "after findings were made under the specific domestic violence policy."

Goodell reiterated his stance that Brady's suspension was consistent with the CBA but said he would defer to the league's legal team in the appellate process.

"We were consistent with the CBA, but that's a legal matter," he said. "I will not be focused on that -- our legal team will focus on that. I want to get back to football."

When asked why Brady was suspended for four games, a punishment also handed out to players who violate the league's drug policy, Goodell cited the NFL's emphasis on "competitive fairness."

"When it comes to competitive violations, those are very important to us," he said. "The appeal to our game is that we're all playing by the same rules, and when someone seeks advantage by playing outside those rules, that's something that needs to be addressed.

"No player wants to be against another player or team that's violating rules. Competitive fairness among all 32 teams is important. We can't dismiss one rule as less or more important."

Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been highly critical of the league throughout the case, but Goodell said he still has "a strong relationship" with Kraft.

"[Our relationship] is the same as it's always been," Goodell said. "We may disagree on this issue [Deflategate], but Robert and I have a strong relationship. We continue to work on league matters."

ESPN's Outside the Lines reported earlier Tuesday that the long history between Goodell and Kraft, including the Spygate investigation in 2007, influenced the commissioner's handling of the Deflategate case.

Goodell said he had not yet seen the Outside the Lines report but claimed that the two cases were unrelated in his mind.

"I can state that I'm not aware of any connection between the Spygate procedures and the procedures here" regarding Deflategate, Goodell said. "There is no connection in my mind between the two incidents."

Goodell will not be present Thursday night when the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL's regular-season opener, saying he doesn't want "to be a distraction."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.