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.