NFL Nation: Anthony Hargrove

The Doug Free situation has finally reached its resolution. According to Calvin Watkins, Free has accepted a pay cut and will remain with the Dallas Cowboys in 2013. ESPN's Ed Werder reports that Free agreed to a 50 percent cut, which would reduce his 2013 salary from $7 million to $3.5 million and save the Cowboys room against this year's cap. Ed also reports that Free is now scheduled to be paid $3.5 million in each of the next two years, with only this year's salary guaranteed.

Free
Obviously, these numbers are much more palatable to the Cowboys than were Free's original contract numbers. Since signing his four-year, $32 million free agent deal after a strong 2010 season, Free has played as poorly as any starting tackle in the NFL. The Cowboys hoped a move from the left side to the right side in 2012 would help things, but it did not, and had he not agreed to the reduction, he likely would have been released. The fact that the 2014 money is not guaranteed is significant, as releasing Free prior to this agreement would have dumped a significant amount of "dead money" onto next year's cap.

The pay cut could allow the Cowboys to sign a free-agent tackle such as Eric Winston, and even if they don't, it's a lot easier on their budget and on common sense to pay Free $3.5 million than $7 million this year. It's possible he's the starting right tackle again and also possible he could share time with or lose the job outright to Jermey Parnell. If he has to be a backup "swing" tackle, his salary for a job like that is at least closer than it was to reasonable.

The Free contract goes down as a boondoggle for the Cowboys because of the way Free has played since signing it. At the time, Free was coming off a fine season as Dallas' starting left tackle and Cowboys fans were panicked about the idea of failing to re-sign him. The deal is in line with what top tackles on that year's market were getting, and he'd played like a top tackle. But obviously, his failure to live up to that season and that deal have put the Cowboys in a bad spot. They obviously didn't want to just release him, and even if they had they couldn't have recouped the salary-cap savings until after June 1. So while this compromise doesn't rid them of their Free problem, it at least makes it a bit of an easier problem with which to deal.

Calvin also reports that the Cowboys are signing veteran defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove for depth at that positon.
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If you caught Sunday's "Outside the Lines" episode, you saw a 30-minute discussion about the performance of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in anticipation of Don Van Natta Jr.'s profile in this week's ESPN The Magazine.

For our purposes, it's worth noting that former New Orleans Saints (and Green Bay Packers) defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove advanced a story we spent plenty of time discussing last offseason as part of the investigation into the Saints' alleged bounty program.

For the first time to my knowledge, Hargrove said the voice in a much-discussed NFL Films video used as evidence against him is that of Saints teammate Remi Ayodele. As you might recall, the NFL initially said Hargrove spoke the words, "Bobby, give me my money," and used the accusation to suggest Hargrove was seeking a bounty payment for a hit on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.

As we pointed out at the time, Hargrove wasn't involved in the play that injured Favre's ankle; Ayodele and defensive end Bobby McCray were. Hargrove said last summer that a voice recognition analysis confirmed it was not his voice, and Goodell eventually acknowledged he was "prepared to assume" it was not Hargrove. In the small-world department, Ayodele signed with the Vikings as a free agent the following year and was teammates with Favre in 2010. Last year, his agent told NFL.com that Ayodele doesn't recall hearing the statement. Via his verified Twitter account, Ayodele lashed out at Hargrove for naming him and added: "I said NOTHING nobody on the team did I'm still trying to figure out this bounty what's he talking bout?"

The incident was one of many questionable accusations against Hargrove and the other players involved in the investigation. On appeal, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue -- acting as a third-party arbitrator -- vacated their suspensions.

In the video, Hargrove implies he won't play again in the NFL but makes clear that the fight to clear his name has just begun.

Note: The Ayodele discussion is not in this clip, presumably because of online rights issues involved with the NFL Films video.
I just finished reading the entire order by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue that vacated player suspensions in the New Orleans Saints bounty matter.

Tagliabue’s ruling is very lengthy (22 pages), so if you don’t have time to read it all, let me summarize it and provide some highlights.

First off, Tagliabue makes it abundantly clear on repeated occasions that he found current commissioner Roger Goodell’s findings that the Saints ran a three-year bounty program to be accurate. Tagliabue said linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith and former New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove engaged in conduct detrimental to the game, although he ruled that former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita did not take part in detrimental conduct.

Tagliabue criticized the behavior of New Orleans players that took part in the bounty program, but, as I read the ruling, it became very clear that he’s shifting most of the blame to coaches and the front office.

The biggest theme I saw as I went through the document was Tagliabue pointing to the behavior of coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and general manager Mickey Loomis as being way out of bounds.

Below are some excerpts where Tagliabue addresses that theme:
  • “The Program eventually led to allegations of a bounty being placed on (former Minnesota quarterback Brett) Favre. Making matters far more serious -- as well as challenging for Commissioner Goodell and League investigators -- Saints’ coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL’s investigation into the Program and the alleged bounty.’’
  • “These suspensions thus deprived the Saints of vitally important coaching and leadership talent, and they represented a severe competitive penalty for the Saints’ team, its fans and indirectly for the New Orleans / Gulf Coast region. Commissioner Goodell’s findings and the resulting suspensions of these Saints’ personnel are final and no longer subject to appeal.’’
  • “There is evidence in the record that suggests that Commissioner Goodell could have disciplined a greater number of Saints’ players for the events that occurred here. This sad chapter in the otherwise praiseworthy history of the New Orleans Saints casts no executive, coach or player in a favorable light.
  • “It is important to note that Commissioner Goodell has been forced to address the issues of misconduct by some individuals in the Saints’ organization since early 2010 to the present. Due to the indefensible obstruction of justice by Saints’ personnel, which included admitted efforts of coaches to mislead or otherwise deny the existence of a bounty or the Program, a disciplinary process that should have taken weeks is verging on three years."
  • “Vitt admitted to NFL investigators in 2012 that he “fabricated the truth” when he spoke to an NFL investigator in March 2010 about whether there had been a bounty on Favre. He later claimed that his admitted fabrication was just “stretching the truth” because he failed to describe for investigators the emotionalism of the defensive team meeting the night before the NFC Championship Game."
  • “There is no question that Coach Williams and other coaches orchestrated the Program to incentivize cart-offs and knockouts; carefully choreographed defensive team meetings, including presenting graphic slide presentations showing injuries to opposing players; ensured that any player who would speak at team meetings was adequately prepared or supported; and generally created an atmosphere in the 2009 season and playoffs that suggested to Saints’ players that offering a $10,000 bounty to injure an opposing player was permissible behavior."

NFL walks away from Saints fight

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
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Jonathan VilmaDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireJonathan Vilma and other players implicated in the Saints bounty scandal have had their penalties overturned by Paul Tagliabue.
Let me get this straight.

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has found that current commissioner Roger Goodell was spot on in his finding of facts in the New Orleans Saints bounty saga? But Tagliabue has vacated all player discipline?

That’s more than a little contradictory. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

Tagliabue is agreeing with Goodell that the Saints ran a bounty program for three years, but Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita no longer are facing suspensions.

Heck, they probably won't even face fines, unless Goodell oversteps Tagliabue -- but I think Goodell is planning on staying in his own lane now.

“My affirmation of commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines,’’ Tagliabue said in part of his statement. “However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization.’’

Sounds to me like Tagliabue and the NFL are taking the easy way out of this one. They’re pointing their fingers squarely at coach Sean Payton, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt.

There’s one huge difference between the coaches and general manager and the four players: The players are represented by the NFL Players Association, which challenged every step of the process, even though you could make a case that the union was siding with the best interest of four players over the safety of hundreds of others.

The NFLPA appealed every decision, and it ultimately won. Vilma doesn’t have to face a season-long suspension. Smith doesn’t have to miss eight games. Hargrove, who is currently out of the league, doesn’t face a seven-game suspension. Fujita, who might have suffered a career-ending injury this season, doesn’t face a one-game suspension.

The league still is saying the players did what the league alleged from the start, and Tagliabue’s statement reiterates that he found convincing evidence that there was a bounty on Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game of the 2009 season.

But the players aren’t getting suspended, they’re not losing paychecks and they’re not getting fined. They’re getting off pretty much free, except for whatever damage was done to their reputations by this whole sordid saga.

That damage was significant, and we might not have heard the last of it on that front. Vilma still has a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. If I’m Vilma, I’m not dropping that lawsuit.

Vilma has shown that you can take on what was supposed to be an almighty commissioner and win. It’s hard to win a defamation lawsuit because you have to prove intent to put out statements you knew were untrue, but Vilma is on a roll, so why not continue pursuing it?

Vilma’s attorney, Peter R. Ginsberg, already has said the defamation suit isn’t going away.

“We are obviously relieved and gratified that Jonathan no longer needs to worry about facing an unjustified suspension,’’ Ginsberg said in a statement. “On the other hand, commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan. Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day.’’

Maybe Vilma can get the NFL to keep backtracking and say there was no bounty on Favre, because it sure looks like the league doesn’t want to fight anymore.

Apparently, the league’s approach now is to just blame it all on Loomis, who already has served an eight-game suspension, and Vitt, who already has served a six-game suspension. And put even more blame on Payton, who is serving a season-long suspension, and Williams, who is banned indefinitely.

Those four are the easy targets because they exhausted their appeals long ago. The only option they had was to appeal their decision to one judge. That was Goodell, back in the spring, and he upheld his own punishments and the clock on those suspensions started ticking.

But the hands of the clock on player punishments were tied up by constant appeals and Vilma’s lawsuit.

Makes you wonder whether Payton, Loomis, Vitt and Williams might have taken a different tack if they knew in the spring what they know now.

There’s no absolute vindication for anyone because Tagliabue and the league still are saying the Saints ran a bounty program.

But one group of the alleged culprits is walking away without any punishment, and the other already has served or is serving its punishment.

That’s because the players fought it and, in the end, Tagliabue grabbed the NFL by its shoulders and pulled the league out of the fight.

NFLPA asks Tagliabue to step aside

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
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The NFL Players Association just sent out a news release saying it will make a motion for former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to recuse himself from hearing the appeals of the four players that are facing suspensions in the New Orleans bounty drama.

Current commissioner Roger Goodell previously recused himself from hearing the appeals of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove. Tagliabue is scheduled to hear the appeals next week.

Throughout the process, the union has been trying to get a more neutral party to hear the appeals. We’ll see how Tagliabue responds to this. But I’ve got a feeling it still may be a long time before this situation gets resolved.

Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. The season is almost halfway over. I’m guessing that the legal maneuvering may delay any player suspensions from being served this season and it’s also possible that federal judge Ginger Berrigan might step in and throw out the suspensions.

In past proceedings, Berrigan has indicated she believes the penalties are too harsh, but she’s been hesitant to make a ruling until it’s clear if, under the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell has the jurisdiction to issue the suspensions.
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has recused himself from hearing the appeals of player suspensions in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty saga.

I’d say that’s at least a momentary victory for Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita.

The players had been asking Goodell to recuse himself and claiming that he is biased and wouldn’t be able to give them a fair hearing on their appeals. I think this also could set a precedent that might limit Goodell’s power to be the sole judge and jury in player discipline. That’s something players fought for, but didn’t get, in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. This doesn't help Goodell's public image, especially on the same day that former Minnesota defensive lineman Jimmy Kennedy accused the commissioner of being a liar for saying Kennedy was a "whistleblower'' on the bounty program.

Goodell said he has appointed former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to hear the appeals.

That brings the question of if the appeals really can be fair. Goodell worked for Tagliabue for years and the two are close. When Tagliabue retired, Goodell had his blessing to be the successor.

“To be clear, I have not consulted with Paul Tagliabue at any point about the Saints matter nor has he been any part of the process,’’ Goodell said in a statement. “Furthermore, under our process the hearing officer has full authority and complete independence to decide the appeal and determine any procedural issues regarding the hearings. I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue’s decisions.”

Tagliabue will hear the appeals Oct. 30.

At the very least, getting a fresh set of eyes and ears on the appeals at least gives the appearance that the players are getting a fair shake. At most, it might convince federal judge Ginger Berrigan, who has implied she thinks that Vilma’s suspension was too harsh, that this case could go beyond Goodell’s jurisdiction and into her jurisdiction.

There still are likely to be a lot of twists and turns in this saga, but I'd say right now things have swung in favor of the players.
The NFL's explanation for how it learned of the New Orleans Saints alleged bounty program goes like this: Former Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove told former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy about it at some point near the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Kennedy told Vikings coach Brad Childress, and Childress reported it to the league.

Friday, Kennedy denied his role as the bounty whistleblower and said the NFL has distributed "blatant lies about me." In a statement released by the NFL Players Association, Kennedy said: "Coach Childress approached me and asked me if I knew anything about such an allegation, and I told him the truth: I did not. I had no knowledge of any such alleged bounty."

Further, Kennedy said it is "an utter lie" to suggest Hargrove told him about the bounty. Kennedy: "It simply never happened. I never discussed an alleged bounty with Anthony Hargrove before, during or after the NFC Championship Game. The only discussion I have had with Anthony about the alleged bounty occurred when we recently spoke about the NFL’s egregiously flawed and unjust investigation and proceeding."

I've had plenty to say about the NFL's investigation of the bounty program, especially as it related to Hargrove during the time he spent with the Green Bay Packers. To be blunt, much of it doesn't pass the smell test. (Many of those posts can be found in this link.)

Hargrove and Kennedy have now both denied the NFL's claims on how Childress became convinced there was a bounty; Childress hasn't commented to my knowledge. And as we've discussed, the evidence the NFL presented against Hargrove has either been debunked or substantially discredited.

We all know the NFL didn't have to meet a legal standard in order to make these accusations and distribute discipline. And part of the language in Kennedy's statement no doubt is setting up the inevitable legal battle that is only beginning. But I agree with one sentiment in the statement from Kennedy, who said he is now among "the list of men whose reputations and character have been irreparably damaged by the shoddy, careless, shameful so-called investigation behind this sham proceeding."

That language might be a bit over the top, but careers have been altered and lives changed forever as a result of this bounty investigation. To this point, it's difficult to say that impact has been merited.

Just when it seemed things were starting to look up for the New Orleans Saints, the franchise got another big blow.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports the initial season-long suspension for linebacker Jonathan Vilma and four-game suspension for defensive end Will Smith, which had been put on temporary hold just before the start of the regular season, have been put back in place. The only change for the current Saints is that Vilma will be able to keep his game checks while on the physically unable to perform list for the first six games of the season.

The other changes are for former New Orleans players Scott Fujita (now with the Browns) and Anthony Hargrove (out of the league). Fujita’s suspension has been reduced from three games to one game. Hargrove’s eight-game suspension has been lightened to seven games.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was asked by an appeals board to review his disciplinary decisions to make sure they weren’t related to the salary cap, came back with a firm ruling that the suspensions were due to conduct detrimental to the game.

I wouldn’t have expected any other result from Goodell, who has dug in his heels firmly since the NFL announced March 2 that it had found the Saints were running a three-year bounty program.

Goodell has an entire league to protect and the suggestion he let a bounty program go with little or no punishment could be disastrous to the NFL as it faces thousands of concussion lawsuits. Goodell made a strong statement once and he did it again Tuesday.

Goodell previously suspended coach Sean Payton for the entire season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also was suspended indefinitely. Other than an appeal to Goodell, there was nothing Payton, Loomis and Vitt could do because they didn’t fall under the umbrella of the NFL Players Association.

The NFLPA went all out to protect the players, appealing the suspensions and helping to get a temporary restraining order. Vilma’s attorney also helped tie things up by filing a defamation lawsuit against Goodell.

But Goodell apparently has weathered the storm and I have no doubt he met extensively with his legal team before reinstating the suspensions.

I’m sure it’s possible (probably likely) more appeals could be filed and this thing could drag on longer. But at this point, why?

The season is approaching the halfway point and it already has been ruined for the Saints. Even with Smith, they went 1-4. Even if Vilma’s suspension were lifted, there’s no guarantee he would be healthy enough to come off the physically unable to perform list this season.

Vitt and Loomis are almost finished with their suspensions. Payton is approaching the halfway point of his. Smith should just accept the suspension and serve his four games. Vilma should just sit for the rest of the season.

The Saints don’t need the bounty drama hanging over them any longer. This is a way to get it all over with.

Take the punishment and let everyone come back next year with a fresh start.
Today's ruling in the New Orleans Saints' bounty case has generated one immediate question from an NFC North perspective. Many of you are asking if the Green Bay Packers can re-sign defensive end Anthony Hargrove, released exactly two weeks ago, and play him in Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

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Hargrove
This story remains fluid, but the NFL just announced that Hagrove -- along with three other once-suspended players -- has been reinstated and is eligible to play this weekend. So the Packers could bring him back if they chose to. He is officially a free agent. For what it's worth, however, I would be surprised if they choose that route.

Hargrove was released on the first of the NFL's two cutdown dates, a pretty significant sign that things weren't working out independent of Hargrove's looming suspension. The Packers had given him almost no work in team drills during training camp, and other players had stepped into the roles the Packers once eyed Hargrove for.

Stranger things have happened, but I don't see Friday's ruling changing that dynamic for the Packers, at least not right away.

Podcast: Schefter on lifted suspensions

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
4:20
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ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter says suspended players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita won a major legal victory and are eligible to play on Sunday. The NFL will appeal. The ramifications are enormous here.
Jonathan Vilma and other current/former suspended New Orleans Saints players won reversals Friday.

What it means for the NFC West:
  • The decision clears Vilma to play against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12. Vilma had previously been suspended for the full season. The other suspended players either would have returned before facing the 49ers (Will Smith) or no longer play for New Orleans (Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove). Vilma is an important part of the Saints' defense. Having him should help against the 49ers' running game.
  • Vilma's availability to the Saints could enable the team to part with Barrett Ruud, the linebacker acquired from Seattle by trade last month. The Seahawks are in line to receive a late-round draft choice from the Saints in return if Ruud remains on New Orleans' roster for an undisclosed number of games. Seattle appears less likely to collect on that trade now that Vilma is available.
  • The reversals affected players, not coaches. The St. Louis Rams will remain without Gregg Williams, who was suspended indefinitely after becoming defensive coordinator for St. Louis.
Full story here.

Saints' player suspensions lifted

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
4:10
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The New Orleans Saints have scored their first victory in a long, long time.

After going through one of the harshest offseasons any pro sports franchise has ever faced, the Saints got some very good news Friday afternoon.

A three-member appeals panel has overturned the player suspensions that stemmed from what the NFL said was a three-year bounty program. The decision says NFL commissioner Roger Goodell only can reconsider discipline if there is evidence of intent to injury and that evidence has to show that there was more than a performance pool.

Current New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma had been given a season-long suspension and defensive end Will Smith was suspended for the first four games. Former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove also drew suspensions. But all those suspensions are now vacated.

“Victory is mine!!!!’’, Vilma wrote on his Twitter account.

Vilma maintained his innocence all along and repeatedly insisted the Saints did not run a bounty program. But the victory doesn’t belong just to Vilma.

It’s a big win for the Saints. The NFL hasn't said anything yet, but presumably the Saints now can use Smith, their top pass-rusher in Sunday’s season opener against Washington. It isn’t immediately clear if Vilma will be able to play.

Prior to the start of his suspension, Vilma was rehabbing an injured knee and it’s not known if he’s healthy enough to play. It’s possible Vilma could open the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Video: NFLPA asks for restraining order

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
10:55
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Adam Schefter talks about the chances that Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove will be allowed to play this Sunday.
About an hour after we noted the Green Bay Packers had turned their attention toward the composition of their roster, the team announced five roster cuts. By far the most notable name was defensive end Anthony Hargrove, a rare free-agent acquisition who learned a few weeks after he signed with the team that he would be suspended eight games as part of the NFL's discipline for the New Orleans Saints bounty program.

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Hargrove
The Packers had the option of carrying Hargrove on their suspended list once the season began. He wouldn't have counted against their 53-man roster during that time period, but it was also clear that the looming suspension had created a roadblock. The Packers gave him only a handful of snaps in team periods, acknowledging they needed to distribute them instead to players who were eligible to start the season. In many ways, the Packers were forced to move on.

I don't blame the Packers for taking care of the team first. But for what it's worth, I agree with a thought tweeted out this evening by Albert Breer of the NFL Network, who suggested the release "could raise some legal liability for NFL tied to the Saints' bounty situation."

We've spent a lot of time picking through the evidence the NFL presented against Hargrove, most of which was easy to poke holes in. In the end, it was difficult to understand explicitly what exactly Hargrove was suspended for.

A reasonable person could put two and two together and suggest Hargrove wouldn't have been released Friday if he hadn't been suspended. In other words, the bounty discipline has significantly impacted Hargrove's career. We'll see if that leads anywhere from a legal perspective.

Note: The other four players released were receiver Andrew Brewer, safety Micah Pellerin, tackle Herb Taylor and cornerback Dion Turner.
There was a significant overnight development in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program story that could be the first thing close to a compromise between the team and the National Football League.

There reportedly is an offer on the table for New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma to have his season-long suspension reduced to eight games. The deal is contingent upon Vilma dropping his defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

I think Vilma should grab this deal and run with it, because it would be somewhat of a victory for him and it could help lead to reductions in the shorter suspensions for New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and Green Bay defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. It also would end a legal battle and a war of words that has dragged on far too long.

Vilma
Vilma could salvage half a season, and that’s significant when you’re a player who is coming off a knee injury and is nearing the end of his career. It also would mean he could collect his salary for half a season, which would be a lot better than not getting paid for an entire season.

Would a reduced suspension be vindication for Vilma? Not totally. He’d still be out for a substantial period of time. But his name is going to be associated with this saga forever no matter what.

Vilma’s been fighting to clear his name, and taking the NFL’s compromise wouldn’t accomplish that. But it still might be the best possible outcome for Vilma.

Numerous legal experts have said there’s very little chance Vilma will win his defamation suit. Goodell hasn’t been willing to back off of anything else in this whole matter, but he’s showing flexibility now.

Vilma should grab the offer, because it’s probably his best-case scenario.

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