NFC South: NFL Players Assocation

Around the NFC South

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
8:51
AM ET
As we count down to the start of the regular season, let's take a look at the Wednesday morning headlines from around the division.

ATLANTA FALCONS

As he gets ready for Sunday’s return to Arrowhead Stadium, tight end Tony Gonzalez reflected on his 12 years in Kansas City. He talked a lot about 1998, which certainly wasn’t his best season. Gonzalez dropped 17 passes that year. That prompted him to start reading inspirational books, seeking advice from veterans and staying after practice to catch passes. The result was the drops stopped and Gonzalez has caught more passes than all but one player (Jerry Rice) in NFL history.

Speaking of Atlanta tight ends, Tommy Gallarda made the roster and is third on the depth chart behind Gonzalez and Michael Palmer. But I think you’ll see a fair amount of Gallarda. He is Atlanta’s best blocking tight end.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said his expectations for defensive tackle Peria Jerry were “in limbo’’ entering training camp. Jerry had struggled since suffering a knee injury early in his rookie season (2009). But Nolan said Jerry has had an impressive preseason. That should help, because Jerry is expected to start with Corey Peters out for at least the first six games of the regular season.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Special teams were a problem area last season, so the Panthers made a bunch of changes in the offseason. The results weren’t apparent in the preseason, but coach Ron Rivera said he’s confident the special teams will be better in the regular season. They better be. The Panthers made changes at kicker and punter and plan to play several starters extensively on special teams. If the performance isn’t any better, the Panthers won’t have any excuses.

Although the Panthers arrived in Florida on Tuesday night and will practice in Bradenton starting Wednesday, a team of staff members have stayed back at Bank of America Stadium. Team president Danny Morrison said those staffers are helping behind the scenes with the Democratic National Convention and will join the team in Florida on the weekend.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett caught up with suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton, who is helping coach his team’s youth-league football team. Payton said he’s kept a close eye on the Saints throughout the preseason, but largely has stayed quiet on the league-imposed suspensions. Payton said he, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis are in a different position than the players, because they don’t have a union to challenge the NFL. He said his ultimate goal is to get reinstated at the right time, and he’s received no indications the league would consider reducing his suspension.

The NFL Players Association is making a last-ditch effort to get a temporary restraining order that would stop suspensions for New Orleans defensive end Will Smith and two other former Saints (Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove) before the season opens. A similar motion previously was filed for linebacker Jonathan Vilma. The union is arguing irreparable damage will be done to the players if they’re suspended at the start of the season.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

At least according to the latest unofficial depth chart put out by the team, Preston Parker has lost his job as the No. 1 punt and kickoff returner. Sammie Stroughter is listed as the top punt returner and Michael Smith as the top kickoff returner. If the depth chart is accurate, it’s not a huge surprise. Parker has struggled with returns and the Bucs might have been forced to keep Stroughter over receiver Tiquan Underwood because they wanted to make sure they had someone dependable to field punts.

Coach Greg Schiano and co-chairman Bryan Glazer asked fans to help give the Bucs a home-field advantage at Raymond James Stadium. The team has struggled to get good attendance in recent years, and Bucs’ fans are sometimes outnumbered by those of opponents. The Bucs have repeatedly said this offseason that they want to reconnect with their fan base. They’re doing their part so far, but the next step is to win consistently.
Phil Williams, the agent for former New Orleans defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (now with Green Bay) just gave us what is likely to be Hargrove’s case when his appeal of an eight-game suspension is heard by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday. Williams sent out a lengthy letter to multiple media outlets, in which he basically says the NFL has no evidence of a bounty program and payments made to players.

It’s possible Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Scott Fujita, the other three players facing suspensions in the Saints’ bounty program could use similar arguments.

“Can you honestly say that the Saints employed a three-year “bounty program” if no one was ever paid for a "bounty"?’’ Williams wrote. “Would that not constitute one of the worst followed programs ever witnessed? Should there not have been dozens of rewards paid out, if in fact, “bounties for injuries” (which is what this was all about in the beginning, I think) paid out money? And why would your "independent" counsel be so highly paid for their counsel (by you) and also be so secretive? Again, if the facts are so obvious, why not allow someone truly impartial to make the final decision and therefore validate your judgments?’’

It’s Williams’ job to defend his client and he makes his points emphatically. Williams also said the league twisted what Hargrove said in a declaration.

Williams and Hargrove will get their chance to argue those points and more Monday. But this may be their last chance. Two arbitrators already have ruled against NFL Players Association grievances filed on behalf of the players. Goodell is the man who suspended Hargrove and the other players. He’ll also be the one to hear their appeals.

Unless there’s some stunning new development, I doubt Goodell suddenly is going to change his mind.

Arbitrator rules against Saints

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
12:44
PM ET
One of the shots at relief from the punishments of players in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal was ruled out Monday.

Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had the authority to suspend Jonathan Vilma for the 2012 season and Will Smith for the first four games. The same goes for former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, who are now with other teams. The NFL Players Association had filed a grievance, saying the collective agreement reached last August does not give Goodell the power to discipline players for on-field actions.

The NFL Players Association immediately issued a release saying it will appeal Bubank’s decision. The union said it believes players are entitled to neutral arbitration and will continue to fight for that principle.

The union also filed a grievance with another arbitrator, who has yet to rule on the matter. All four players also have appealed their suspensions to Goodell. The commissioner has said he will not hear the appeals until all the grievances are resolved. Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell.

The bottom line is that situation still has a long way to go before being fully done. As long as the appeals are active, the players don’t have to begin their suspensions. Smith previously was involved in the StarCaps situation and that dragged on for several years before he finally had to serve a two-game suspension last year. If the appeals aren’t finalized by the start of the season, it’s possible Vilma and Smith could begin the season with the Saints. They have continued to work out at the team facility throughout the offseason.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell already has announced suspensions for coach Sean Payton (one year) and general manager Mickey Loomis (the first eight games of the 2012 season) for their roles in the Saints’ bounty program.

He also has fined the Saints $500,000, taken away second-round draft picks this year and in 2013, and suspended assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six games of next season.

But what about the 22 to 27 former players allegedly involved in the bounty program that lasted three seasons? The league has said suspensions and fines are possible punishments for the players. Some of the players involved remain with the Saints, but others have moved on to other teams or are out of the NFL. Goodell said disciplinary actions for the players will come soon, but he wouldn’t set a timetable.

“I would like to do it as soon as reasonable,’’ Goodell said.

Goodell said he wants to talk with leaders of the NFL Players Association before issuing any official discipline for players. Goodell said he expects to talk to union leader DeMaurice Smith before the end of the week.

When asked if he would consider staggering suspensions if multiple Saints players were impacted, Goodell indicated it was too early to say.

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