- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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In just a few minutes, another chapter in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program will begin.
Special master Stephen Burbank is scheduled to hear a grievance filed by the NFL Players Association on behalf of four players that have drawn suspensions – New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith and former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove. Part of the reason the NFL suspended those players was because the league said they funded and received money as a part of the bounty program. The NFLPA is expected to argue that the financial aspect makes this a salary-cap issue and puts it under the jurisdiction of Burbank, instead of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The NFLPA had a grievance heard by an arbitrator two weeks ago. In that grievance, the NFLPA argued that Goodell isn’t the proper authority to issue punishment for things that took place on the field. No ruling on that grievance has been announced.
Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. Although the grievances and the lawsuit are separate matters, they have a common thread. The players are attempting to get the authority out of Goodell’s hands and, in the case of Vilma’s lawsuit, trying to force the league to show evidence of the bounty program.
All four players also are appealing their suspensions to Goodell. The commissioner has said he’ll hear the appeals after rulings are made on the grievances.