Browns season-ticket holders had an audience with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday. And he stepped away from the first day of resumed labor mediation in Minneapolis to speak with them.
Goodell took questions during a conference call with 5,000 Browns fans. The primary topic, as expected, was the lockout that has halted nearly all league business. The owners and players were back at mediation Thursday after so ordered by Judge Susan Richard Nelson.
"I know it's on the minds of many fans," Goodell said. "We're working hard to try to get that done.
"I can't get specific on it, because the mediator asked us to remain confidential. But it's a positive step when parties are talking. By being here, we have the opportunity to talk to the players' counsel and try to work through issues.
"I hope we can get back to really talking about the issues, and come up with ideas that can solve those issues and get a collective bargaining agreement."
Goodell praised the concessions on secondary issues made by the owners during the failed negotiations in March, but acknowledged the discrepancy in how to divide the nearly $10 billion in revenue is the major hurdle.
"Clearly economics is a big part of it," he said. "The owners have been talking about the need to make sure we keep investing in the game and the future of the game. Investment in stadiums, capital improvement to stadiums and growing the game internationally.
"We need a business model that works in that capacity."
Goodell said the use of replacement players hasn't been discussed among owners as a possible strategy. He also said the Super Bowl next February in Indianapolis could be pushed back a week if the lockout delays the start of the season. Indianapolis agreed to keep open a two-week window in case the league had gone to an 18-game regular season.
"The Super Bowl takes a great deal of planning in advance and commitment," Goodell said, adding the off week before the Super Bowl could be eliminated if necessary. "That's why we need to remove the uncertainty and play the schedule as it's planned out."
Goodell said the NFL hopes to release the regular-season schedule within the next 10 days. He didn't have a drop-dead date for a labor deal in order for the season to start on time in September.
"We are planning on a full season," he said. "If we're unsuccessful in getting a labor agreement, we have to make those decisions as we go.
"I recognize how important this is to the fans. I certainly recognize the tremendous passion you have in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. We will work as hard as we can to make sure you have football and more of it."
Goodell took the last 20 minutes of the hour call. The season-ticket holders spent the other 40 minutes with general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur, who replaced president Mike Holmgren, who was home sick.
The fans, including an elderly lady who said she's been going to Browns games since 1946, welcomed Shurmur to town and peppered Heckert with draft questions. The draft is April 28-30, and the Browns hold the No. 6 pick.
"We're just about ready," Heckert said.
He said the front office discusses trade scenarios daily in which the Browns could move down if their top choice isn't available at No. 6.
"With quarterbacks involved, that spurs people on to trade," Heckert said. "There might be some movement. I don't know if that movement will be before we pick or not."
The majority of the multitude of mock drafts have the Browns taking a receiver or defensive lineman, which correspond with the team's biggest needs.
"Tom and I get plenty of free advice," Shurmur said. "It's natural to look at players in the draft at those positions. There are terrific players at receiver, as well as the defensive line."
The lockout has left teams in the unique situation of drafting before free agency. The rules for free agency won't be determined until the lockout is over.
"We're ready for free agency whenever that does happen," Heckert said. "Will we be super-active? I don't know if that's the case.
"We are going to try to help ourselves, but I wouldn't say we'll go crazy and spend a lot of money."
With the draft first, some teams might feel pressured into trying to fill a need that would've been addressed in free agency. But Heckert said the Browns will stick with their plan for sustained success, which includes getting younger and building through the draft.
"We're going to take the best available player," he said.
Heckert wouldn't divulge the prospects the Browns have hosted in Berea, but said anyone in the mix at No. 6 is on the list. Receiver A.J. Green, quarterback Cam Newton and defensive end Da'Quan Bowers are among those who visited this week.
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