NFC South: StarCaps

Unless the NFL Players Association has some sort of Hail-Mary pass hidden deep in its playbook, it’s starting to look like New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma will have to serve his season-long suspension and defensive end Will Smith will have to sit out the first four games.

A second arbitrator has ruled against a grievance by the NFLPA on behalf of Vilma, Smith and former Saints Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita. In the latest ruling, arbitrator Shyan Das ruled in favor of the NFL. The grievance said that the collective bargaining agreement signed last summer, prohibits commissioner Roger Goodell from punishing players for contact before the agreement was signed. But Das said Goodell had that authority.

That leaves only a few more ways for Smith and Vilma to avoid their suspensions, or have them reduced. Their appeals directly to Goodell are scheduled to be heard later in June. But, since Goodell is the one who issue the punishment, I doubt he’ll reverse himself. He upheld his rulings when Saints coaches and administrators appealed suspensions against the team.

The other wild card in this is Vilma’s defamation lawsuit against Goodell. Some legal experts have said they expect that case to be dismissed before ever reaching trial. But Vilma’s lawyer was involved in the StarCaps litigation that hung up suspensions for Smith and former New Orleans player Charles Grant and several former Minnesota players. The players eventually were suspended last season, but their case, which began in 2008, was stalled in the legal system for a long time as the NFL waited for final resolution.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton said Monday the Saints expect to get defensive end Will Smith back sometime this week.

Smith was suspended for the first two games of this season after testing positive for the banned substance “StarCaps’’ in 2008. He also was required to forfeit four game checks. Smith hasn’t been formally reinstated yet, but Payton said he expects that by the middle of the week.

The Saints did a decent job of getting through the first two games without their top pass rusher. After a rough opener in Green Bay, the defense played a strong game in Sunday’s victory against Chicago.

There were some raised eyebrows when the Saints released veteran defensive end Alex Brown in the preseason, knowing they’d have to play without Smith. But Brown wasn’t having a great preseason and the Saints decided not to hang onto Brown as a bridge until Smith came back.

Instead, they took their chances and it worked out. Rookie Cameron Jordan got to play right away and has shown some potential and the Saints have found out that Turk McBride and Junior Galette can play.

With Smith back in the fold, the Saints will have some depth at defensive end.

NFC South evening update

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
6:08
PM ET
On what's been a very busy day across the NFC South, let's go to the headlines to catch up on some other items of interest.

The Carolina Panthers reportedly have shown interest in Pat Williams (and presumably about 100 other defensive tackles). It’s very logical because Williams is known as a run-stuffer and the Panthers are desperate for one. But there’s one small problem with this. It’s likely Williams would face the same two-game suspension that was handed out to Kevin Williams and Will Smith in the StarCaps case. In other words, the earliest Williams could help the Panthers would be the third game of the season. I’d keep an eye on Trey Lewis, who was just cut by the Falcons. I know some people in Carolina’s personnel office who have always respected Lewis’ play.

Steve Reed has his projection of Carolina’s 53-man roster and correctly points out it’s likely the Panthers will bring in at least a few guys from outside.

Stephen Holder has his projection on Tampa Bay’s roster.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his wife have separated.

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the Falcons took a medical risk when they signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden. He had a neck injury and was unable to pass physical examinations given to him by other teams. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said the Falcons were comfortable with Hayden’s condition.

New Orleans running back Chris Ivory, who missed much of the preseason with a foot injury and surgery on a sports hernia, said he’s ready to test out his body. But it’s possible he’ll be given more time because the Saints could put him on the physically-unable-to-perform list to start the season.

The Saints haven’t announced any roster cuts yet, but it appears defensive back Trumaine McBride has been told he’s gone.

Will Smith suspension coming?

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
3:31
PM ET
The Minnesota Vikings just put out a statement on their website from the NFL saying that defensive tackle Kevin Williams will be suspended for the first two games of the season.

We have not heard any word out of the New Orleans Saints yet, but I think it’s safe to assume there is similar news coming on defensive end Will Smith. He and Williams were among the players who tested positive for the banned-substance StarCaps in 2008. The NFL initially wanted to suspend all the players involved for four games.

But there were legal cases involved and the league had to wait for resolution. Assuming Smith gets the same punishment as Williams, the Saints will be without him for Thursday night’s opener against Green Bay at Lambeau Field and the Sept. 18 home game with Chicago.

The Saints cut veteran defensive end Alex Brown earlier this week. With Smith out, they’ll likely start first-round pick Cameron Jordan at one defensive end spot. The other likely will be filled by Jeff Charleston, Turk McBride or Junior Galette.
It doesn’t sound like anything’s definite just yet, but there’s a report by the St. Paul Pioneer Press that says New Orleans defensive end Will Smith may only have to serve a two-game suspension. The report goes on to say that it’s possible the suspension might not come at the start of the season.

Smith, Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams and former Minnesota defensive lineman Pat Williams were among a group of players the NFL said tested positive for the banned diuretic “StarCaps’’ in 2008. Initially, they were supposed to serve four-game suspensions. Legal action prevented the league from enforcing any suspensions the past few years. But a decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court in recent months cleared the way for the suspensions.

But the report says that this case is being used as a “bargaining chip’’ in negotiations for a new drug-testing policy. An NFL official told the newspaper there was nothing to report on the situation.
The StarCaps saga that’s been playing out for more than two years finally could end up with New Orleans defensive end Will Smith serving a four-game suspension.

Smith was one of five players to reportedly test positive for a banned diuretic back in 2008. Retired running back Deuce McAllister and defensive end Charles Grant, who was released after the 2009 season, also were initially supposed to be suspended. But Minnesota’s Kevin and Pat Williams also were among the players involved.

Legal action by the Minnesota players put the suspensions on hold as the case went through the court system. The latest development came Tuesday when the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled against the players. The court affirmed a lower-court ruling that the NFL didn’t violate state law by trying to discipline the players.

An appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court still could come, but it’s unclear if that will be pursued.

This likely means the Saints will at least have to prepare for being without Smith at some point this season. Adding help at defensive end already was a possibility because Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson weren’t all that productive last season.

The Saints hold the 24th overall pick in the April draft.

Another step in StarCaps case

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
10:21
AM ET
Don’t know if this will resolve it, but we’re at least on the verge of seeing the next move in the StarCaps case, which has been going on since 2008.

A judge in Minnesota is expected to decide Thursday if the NFL violated state drug-testing laws when it suspended Vikings Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. They’ve never served those suspensions because the case has been hung up in the legal system.

The New Orleans Saints will be watching the outcome of this one closely as they have with every step of the StarCaps saga. Defensive end Will Smith also was facing a four-game suspension, but the NFL has held off on enforcing that while the case goes through the legal system. If the judge rules in favor of the NFL, it could lead to Smith being suspended for four games this season.

The Saints have braced themselves for that possibility by signing veteran defensive ends Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson as free agents. Former New Orleans players Charles Grant and Deuce McAllister also were initially involved in this and reportedly tested positive for banned supplements. McAllister since has retired. The Saints released Grant after last season, but he could still face a suspension if he signs with another team.

StarCaps case hasn't gone away

February, 18, 2010
2/18/10
1:15
PM ET
There are developments in Minnesota that the New Orleans Saints are probably keeping a very close eye on.

There’s a new development in the StarCaps case. A judge has ruled that Minnesota defensive linemen Kevin and Pat Williams can sue the NFL for allegedly violating state drug-testing laws. A trial has been scheduled for March 8.

The Williams’ reportedly tested positive for a banned substance in 2008. The NFL wanted to suspend them for four games in 2009, but that got delayed when a judge issued an injunction against disciplinary action. It was at that point that the NFL said it would not take any immediate action against New Orleans defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith. They reportedly tested positive for the same substance and also faced the possibility of suspensions.

The legal system can move slowly, but this latest news means we’re at least moving closer to a resolution. If the Williams’ win the suit, it may eliminate any chance of suspensions. If they lose, the NFL may go ahead with suspensions for all of the players involved.

Former New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister also reportedly had a positive test. McAllister didn’t play last season. He briefly re-signed with the Saints as a ceremonial gesture during their playoff run, but was placed on the reserve/retired list.

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