MIAMI – Commissioner Roger Goodell says the NFL will consider offering incentives to teams playing late-season games to discourage them from resting their starters for the playoffs.
Goodell said the league was sensitive to criticism of the Indianapolis Colts' decision to use backups a week ago in a game they lost, ending their bid for a perfect season.
"It is something we'll look at," Goodell said Sunday. "We heard the fans loud and clear. It's something our competition committee has looked at in the past, but we're going to ask our competition committee to look at it again in the future. We want every game to be competitive."
The league's position has been that playoff-bound teams enjoy the right to rest their starters to prepare for the postseason. Goodell said he didn't blame the Colts for their decision.
The commissioner spoke before the game between the Dolphins and Steelers. Later, in an interview with CBS, Goodell said various incentives to prevent teams from benching starters will be considered.
Such incentives could include awarding draft choices.
"We are considering a lot of different things," Goodell said on CBS. "I don't think you can punish them for not playing. The other thing that has to happen is you have to make it clear to the public that you are not going to be playing someone, like we do with our injury reports."
The Colts already had clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs when coach Jim Caldwell sat Peyton Manning and other starters in the second half, and the Jets rallied to win. NFL purists were upset the Colts didn't go all-out with a shot at a perfect season.
"We want to make sure the integrity of the NFL is first and foremost in everyone's mind, and try to find ways to make sure our games are competitive at all points in the season, including the preseason," Goodell said.
Goodell was in Miami to take part in an 80th birthday celebration for Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula. The Colts' loss to the Jets preserved Shula's status as the only coach to lead a team to a perfect season. His 1972 Dolphins went 17-0.
Shula said he didn't recall ever facing the kind of decision Caldwell had to make regarding Manning and other starters a week ago.
"What you've got to do is do what's best for your team and be willing to take the flak that goes with it," Shula said. "If you think it's right to rest the guy so you're sure he's ready and rested for the Super Bowl, then you've got to do it."