Payton could appeal

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might allow Sean Payton to coach the New Orleans Saints while he appeals his season-long suspension for his role in the team’s bounties program.

“I said in a letter they have to appeal by April 2, I believe,” Goodell said at the owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. “If he decides to appeal, I probably will allow him to continue and I would expedite the hearing and I would expedite my decision.”

Goodell also is waiting for recommendations from the players’ union before punishing players for participating in the three-year bounty system that targeted opponents for big hits.

Fewer concussions

Moving kickoffs up 5 yards last season did exactly what the NFL sought, reducing concussions.

“The kickoff rule had an effect on the game,” said Rich McKay, chairman of the league’s competition committee. “There was a 40 percent reduction in concussions on that play.”

The league repeatedly has said the change to kicking off from the 35-yard line was done solely for player safety. McKay said it served that purpose.

But he admitted surprise that total kickoff returns dropped 53 percent.

For all plays, concussions were down 12.5 percent, from 218 in 321 games in 2010 to 190 in 320 games last season. There was no Hall of Fame game last year because of the lockout.

Around the league

The St. Louis Rams signed free agent wide receiver Steve Smith, filling a pressing need. Smith, who had 107 receptions for the New York Giants in 2009, will be entering his sixth season. … The Oakland Raiders more than doubled their draft haul by receiving three compensatory picks for April’s draft. … The Arizona Cardinals have agreed to terms on a three-year contract for long snapper Mike Leach and a two-year deal for linebacker Reggie Walker. … The New England Patriots have released fullback Lousaka Polite, who joined the Patriots on Dec. 27.