NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doubled down on Deflategate and reaffirmed his commitment to "Thursday Night Football" in his State of the League address at the George Young Convention Center on Wednesday afternoon.
"We're thrilled to be here in Houston," Goodell said, projecting attendance will reach one million after topping 250,000 for the first three days of the week.
Shortly after opening his address began at 1 p.m. CT, Goodell was peppered by questions regarding Deflategate, relocation and ratings.
With New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft seated in the first row five seats from the aisle and 15 yards from Goodell, the commissioner stood by his decision to suspend quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2016 season based on findings that revealed a violation of rules and besmirching the integrity of the game.
If the last game of the season ends with a Patriots victory, Goodell said he is ready to hand the trophy to the champions.
"I would tell you that it's not awkward at all for me," Goodell said, adding that he didn't dodge two playoff games in Foxborough, Mass., to attend back-to-back games in Atlanta for that reason. "If invited I'll return. I have no doubt if I wanted to return to Foxborough and I asked Mr. Kraft, I'd be welcomed back. I continue to respect and admire Robert and Jonathan (Kraft). I'm not afraid of disagreement. And I don't think it leads to distrust or disrespect.
" ... We have a job to do. From our standpoint, we understand the fans who are loyal and passionate for a team object and don't like the outcome. From our standpoint, this is just about making sure we take care of business."
As for any conversation with Brady, Goodell cited a policy of never revealing when he speaks to players, only that it happens regularly.
On relocation, of the San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles and the Oakland Raiders to a city to be determined, Goodell said the NFL stands by its belief that relocation is a last resort. The league, Goodell said, deeply incentivized the city of San Diego to replace dilapidated Qualcomm Stadium with an unprecedented $300 million in total funding to kick-start a project.
The Chargers are leaving for Los Angeles after 56 years in San Diego.
"These are painful processes -- it is hard on our fans, and it is not the outcome we were hopeful for," Goodell said. "It has taken awhile to recognize that a new stadium was needed. It's a process that has to identify a solution that is good for the community and the team. We weren't able to do that."
Placing a team in Las Vegas, the stated intent of Raiders owner Mark Davis, will not progress until owners review the status of the team's relocation plan from Oakland.
Goodell said no determination was made on Las Vegas and its viability as an NFL market, of which stadium financing will be just one factor reviewed. Another is whether gambling can co-exist with the NFL.
"It does today, it exists throughout our world," Goodell said. "What we've always said is there needs to be a fine line between team sports gambling and the integrity of the NFL. ... That is something we think is imperative to us."
Goodell said the league has been studying shifts in television ratings for a number of years and plan to enact a change in planned breaks per quarter -- four instead of five -- next season. That will not include eliminating "Thursday Night Football," which Goodell touted as the No. 2 show in prime time.
"What we're trying to do is make our games as exciting and action-packed as possible. We have not dismissed any theories. We're going to have the competition committee focused on several issues," Goodell said. "There are number of things where we think we can focus on management of the game, stopping the game. We have five breaks per quarter, we think we can do it with four. We think less is more in this area."
Goodell said he strives "to do things better" every day to earn the trust of fans and owners. Included in those responsibilities are labor peace and advancing negotiations with the NFL Players Association. The NFLPA plans to propose in coming weeks altering the drug policy to soften the penalty for recreational marijuana use.
"I think what it's signaling from our standpoint is the labor agreement we have is working for our players, our clubs," Goodell said. "In the last four years alone the salary cap has jumped almost $1.7 billion including benefits. We sent the union last spring several pages of issues we wanted to address -- we put on that list drug policy as one of those issues. I think what we're seeing here is reason to sit down and negotiate at the table."