PALM BEACH, Fla. - The NFL, which already has allowed fans to sit in on Super Bowl Media Day and the predraft scouting combine, gave them yet another up-close-and-personal peek inside the league Monday.
Nineteen fans got the opportunity to attend part of the afternoon session at the league meetings at the posh Breakers Resort (we assume they had to wipe their feet on the way in). They spent more than an hour behind closed doors with commissioner Roger Goodell and the league's owners, coaches and other club executives.
"Someone [from the league] asked one of them what's the most important thing you want," Goodell said. "And he said integrity of the game. He was asked to define that and he said, 'Make sure what we see is real and that everybody is playing by the rules.' "
Interestingly, two of the biggest issues at these meetings concern teams that have not been playing by the rules - the Redskins and Cowboys, who have been penalized a combined $46 million in salary-cap room by the league for questionable cap practices related to 2010, when there was no salary cap, and the Saints' bounty system, which has resulted in a year's suspension for the team's head coach, Sean Payton.
Goodell declined to comment on the situation with the Cowboys and Redskins because the two teams have filed a grievance against the league, the league's Management Council and the NFL Players Association. The grievance will be heard by a neutral arbitrator, University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank.
As for the Saints, Goodell dismissed suggestions that he was overly harsh in his punishment of the team. In addition to the suspensions levied on Payton, the architect of the bounty system, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who left after the season to take a job with the Rams, was suspended indefinitely. General manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games. Assistant head coach-linebackers coach Joe Vitt was docked six games. The Saints also were stripped of second-round draft picks this year and next year, and fined $500,000.
At some point, Goodell also is expected to hand down significant suspensions to a number of Saints defensive players who were involved in the scandal.
"There are a couple of issues," Goodell said. "One, what they did is a violation of a very serious rule. We have made player health and safety a very clear priority. I've addressed it with the owners, head coaches, general managers, all of our personnel. When this first was raised 2 years ago, there were denials [by the Saints]. And that continued even through our investigation into the last couple of weeks.
"We have zero tolerance for this in the NFL. It's not acceptable to hide the issue and to continue to violate league policy. Put our players at risk. That's going to be dealt with very harshly."
Goodell said he hopes to make a decision on any player punishments "as soon as reasonable." He said he is hoping to talk with players association executive director DeMaurice Smith by the end of the week and get a recommendation from him.
Goodell also said that other teams that employed Williams before he joined Payton in New Orleans, including the Redskins and the Bills, are not yet out of the woods.
"We have not closed the investigation," he said. "If we get information, we follow up on it. We have met with people and we'll meet with [more] people when these meetings are over. We have not said everybody [else] has received a free pass here."
Payton reportedly was spotted at the Breakers Monday, and according to a team spokesman, might talk to the media on Tuesday. His suspension doesn't begin until April 1.
Goodell pointed out that Payton has the option of appealing his suspension, though Goodell would be the one considering the appeal. Payton has until April 2 to appeal. According to Goodell, he would be allowed to work while the appeal is being considered. "But I would expedite the appeal," the commissioner said.
There were reports Monday that Payton had approached his former mentor, Bill Parcells, about replacing him as the Saints head coach during his suspension. Parcells would not confirm those reports Monday.
Asked if he would have a problem with Payton bringing in his replacement, Goodell pointed out that wouldn't be Payton's decision to make.
"You're dealing in hypotheticals," he said. "There's only one person that signs the checks in New Orleans."
He was referring, of course, to the team's owner, Tom Benson.
Goodell acknowledged Monday that the league issued the Saints the equivalent of a cease-and-desist order the day before their first playoff game in January against the Lions, informing them that it had "new and credible information" about the team's bounty program.
"They were told that they should make it extremely clear [to their players and coaches] that there should be no bounty system in play while the investigation continued."
The NFL announced the awarding of 32 compensatory draft picks in next month's draft. Not surprisingly, the Eagles didn't receive any because of all the free agents they signed last year. The highest compensatory pick went to the Raiders, who were awarded one at the end of the third round. The Giants received one pick, at the end of the fourth round. The Browns, Packers and Jets were awarded the most compensatory selections. They each received four.
A year after teams approved the automatic replay review of all scoring plays, they will vote Wednesday on whether to do the same with all plays involving turnovers. The proposal is expected to pass. "As with a scoring play, the clock stops after a turnover," Falcons president Rich McKay, who is the co-chair of the league's competition committee, said. "So we think that's a good opportunity for an instant-replay assistant to be able to quickly confirm [that the call was correct] or send the play down to be reviewed. We actually think this would be something that would save time, not cost time. No question more turnovers would be potentially reviewed by the referee. But we would not have the situation where we have a turnover, go to timeout, come back and then the team goes to the line of scrimmage and the coach challenges. That's the ultimate delay. We're trying to avoid that." McKay said reviewing all scoring plays added just 1 second to the average length of games last season.
Daily News' Eagles blog at www.eagletarian.com.