One year ago, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was less than two months removed from heart transplant surgery and couldn't attend the NFL's annual meetings.
Monday, he not only was back, but he gave a stirring message in the opening session of three days of meetings, which other team owners said set a bold, unifying tone for upcoming labor talks with the players association.
"He has a passion and an emotional way of expressing things sometimes," said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "Those of us who love him have affection for him when he does it. It just shows how genuine he is. It came through today.
"I really hope people listened to him, because his message was right on, and we've missed it."
Monday morning's session began with a state of the league address by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, followed by a question-and-answer session.
It wasn't an owners-only meeting, but included almost all of the league's key personnel - owners, coaches, general managers, other league and team officials, and even family members.
During the Q&A session, sources said, Richardson rose to his feet, held a microphone and piggy-backed on Goodell's call for unity in the collective-bargaining negotiations with the players association.
For the three or four minutes Richardson spoke, multiple witnesses said he appeared to have the full attention of everyone in the room.
"He's kind of an E.F. Hutton person," said Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. "When he talks, everyone listens."
"He's a commanding presence," said Kraft. "He's got a forceful voice. His character comes through."
Asked to summarize Richardson's key points, Kraft said: "Stay together as a unit and as a group. Remember we're a partnership and we can't go it alone. We have to remember how lucky we are to be part of this league."
One source said Richardson's speech was like listening to "an old Southern-style preacher."
"I hope the wives took it well," said New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. "He's not afraid to let it out. He's very passionate about the NFL."
Because of stalled negotiations with the union, the league has entered its first year without a salary cap since 1993. Unless owners get concessions from the players association, they're prepared to lock out players starting next March, which potentially could lead to a work stoppage of America's most popular spectator sport.
Richardson is assigned one of the most prominent positions in the labor negotiations. As co-chairman with Denver's Pat Bowlen of the prestigious management council executive committee, he's on the front line of the CBA talks.
"He's a great leader," said Kraft. "What he's doing in the labor area, nobody else is capable of doing.
"He played in the NFL. He's tall. He's a man of great character. He has strong beliefs and he's genuine. He's the anti-phony."
Panthers officials said Richardson is working a full schedule at this week's meetings, his most extensive work away from home since before his Feb.1, 2009 heart transplant.
One source said knowing all Richardson has been through since that life-saving surgery made his speech Monday even more impactful.
Richardson wasn't available for comment, but Goodell and other owners said they're impressed with his health.
"Jerry is back," said Goodell. "He's very engaged. He's very focused ... and is providing the kind of leadership that ownership wants on this issue."
Fox, Payton like
sudden death system
Panthers coach John Fox and NFC South rival Sean Payton, coach of the New Orleans Saints, say they aren't in favor of proposed changes to the NFL's sudden-death overtime system.
The league's competition committee presented a proposal to league owners to modify overtime for postseason games that a team losing the coin toss and then surrendering a field goal on the first possession should have a series of its own in overtime.
The proposed change, which wouldn't affect regular-season games, came about after statistics showed that since the NFL moved the kickoff back from the 35- to the 30-yard line in 1994, the team that wins the coin flip had nearly a 20 percent better chance of winning than the team that loses the toss.
Though Fox said he found the data interesting, he's not sure it should - or will - lead to rules changes.
"I'm pretty comfortable with the current rules," said Fox. "We're going to take it up for vote. I've got a feeling it won't pass."
The vote is expected today.
Several owners, including Houston's Bob McNair, said they would vote for it.
Panthers get picks
The Panthers were awarded three compensatory draft picks by the league after losing free agents Geoff Hangartner, Frank Omiyale and Mark Jones during the 2009 free agency signing period.
Carolina was given two sixth-round picks, the 202nd and 204th overall selections, and a seventh-round pick, 249th overall.
New England led all teams with four compensatory picks, while the Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans each received three.
That brings the Panthers' overall number of selections in next month's draft to eight. They also have their second, third, fourth and seventh round selections and Oakland's sixth-rounder.
Carolina traded its first-rounder to San Francisco during last year's draft to select defensive end Everette Brown in the '09 second round.
Early last season, the Panthers traded its sixth-rounder to Cleveland for defensive tackle Louis Leonard and its fifth-rounder to Kansas City for defensive tackle Tank Tyler.
Goodell seeks Roethlisberger
Perhaps the most noteworthy statement of Monday's news conference with Commissioner Goodell was the ominous tone of his response to a question about the recent legal troubles of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger faces allegations of sexual assault for the second time within a year. "The most important thing is we take the issue very seriously," said Goodell. "We are concerned that Ben continues to put himself in this position."
Around the league
MIAMI: Running back Ronnie Brown , who had been in the suburban Atlanta area to help celebrate his parents' anniversary, was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol and released from a Smyrna, Ga., jail a few hours later, officials said Monday.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Mark Ingram Sr., a star receiver for the Giants in the 1991 Super Bowl, was sentenced to 27 more months in federal prison for jumping bail in an attempt to see his son, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram Jr., play in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
Ingram Sr. failed to surrender in December 2008 to begin serving a prison term of seven years and eight months after pleading guilty to money laundering and bank fraud.