DALLAS – Roger Goodell recognized the questioner, even kidded him.
Chad Ochocinco was in no joking mood.
The Bengals receiver, reporting for his own OCNN network, stood up at Goodell’s annual Super Bowl news conference Friday and asked the NFL commissioner how close the league and players union were to a new contract that would avoid a potential lockout.
“I can tell you the commitment on behalf of the ownership is on getting an agreement,” Goodell said. “This is the window of opportunity to get this done right. Otherwise, uncertainty is going to seep into all of our operations. … I say, let’s get to work, let’s get an agreement that works for everybody.”
Goodell and union officials were to meet today in Dallas, the first formal bargaining session since November. Two more sessions have been scheduled for next week, at an undisclosed location.
Goodell said it was imperative to have a deal before the collective bargaining agreement expires in a month.
“I frequently have said that I think March 4 is a very critical date,” Goodell said. “A lot of different strategies will take place if we’re not successful in getting an agreement by that time.
“We need to have intensive, round-the clock negotiations to address the issues and find solutions. I can assure you that I have that sense of urgency and I believe both sides do.”
Asked whether the owners will lock out the players, Goodell replied: “We have not made any determination with what will happen on March 4.”
The union has said it expects to be locked out if there is no agreement.
“Status quo is not acceptable,” Goodell said. “We have to address these issues going forward. … The pendulum has shifted too far in one direction.”
In the owners’ view, the shift is toward the players. So they opted out of the agreement in 2008, two years after it was reached.
The major issues are how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues; the owners’ push to expand the regular season to 18 games and reduce the preseason by two games; a rookie wage scale; and benefits for retired players.
Goodell added: “There are no deal-breakers.”
That includes the league’s desire to expand the regular season to 18 games. Goodell said fans repeatedly tell him the quality of preseason games doesn’t meet NFL standards.