NFL Nation: NFL Players Association

NFC South salary-cap check

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
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Salary-cap information generally is kept top secret, but the NFL Players Association took the rare step of making some of it public Wednesday.

Presumably in an attempt to show how much cap room remains unused, the NFLPA publicly put out numbers on how much each team is under the cap.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the second-most room in the NFL at $26.384 million under the cap. That number could grow if the Bucs release or restructure the contract of Eric Wright, who currently is costing the team $7.75 million in cap space. This probably will lead to some of the old claims that the Bucs are “cheap." But I think the more significant thing here is that they’re set up nicely to perhaps make a trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis. Part of that equation would involve giving Revis a long-term deal as the highest-paid cornerback in the league. The Bucs, who like to front load contracts, are in a position to make a Revis deal work.

The Carolina Panthers, who had to do a lot of work to get under the cap at the start of free agency, now are $6.187 under the cap (largely due to the restructuring of Jordan Gross’ contract). That figure doesn’t include the deal signed by receiver Domenik Hixon on Wednesday. But Hixon’s deal is probably for the veteran minimum and won’t take up much cap space. The Panthers, who haven’t made any major moves in free agency, have a little bit of wiggle room now and could make perhaps one or two moves of note.

The New Orleans Saints are at $2.05 million under the cap. That means they’re pretty much done with free agency. If they want to make any significant moves, they’ll have to restructure contracts. But the problem there is they already have restructured most of the veteran contracts that would make sense to restructure.

The Atlanta Falcons were listed at $2.4 million under the cap. That was before news broke Thursday morning that the team is releasing right tackle Tyson Clabo. The move will free up $900,000 in the short term. But Clabo will be designated as a June 1 release. After June 1, the cap savings will be about $4.5 million. The Falcons also hope to work a long-term extension with quarterback Matt Ryan sometime this offseason. Depending on the structure of the deal, an extension could create some cap room for the Falcons this year.

Goodell: Saints' fans innocent

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
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NEW ORLEANS -- The lightest moment of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s Friday news conference might have come when he was asked about the welcome he’s receiving in a city where he’s Public Enemy No. 1.

Goodell
“I couldn’t feel more welcome here,’’ Goodell said. “When you look back at my picture, as you point out, it is in every restaurant. I had a float in a Mardi Gras parade. You’ve got a voodoo doll.’’

Goodell has been viewed as a villain throughout the bounty saga. He said that’s no surprise to him as he turned more serious.

“I understand fans loyalty is to the team,’’ Goodell said. “They had no part in this. They were completely innocent in this. So I appreciate the passion. I saw that for myself when we were down here for (Hurricane) Katrina. It’s clear that's what they’re all about. I support the fact they’re passionate.’’

But Goodell emphasized the fact that not everyone was innocent, even though the player suspensions he ordered were vacated on appeal.

“Let’s make sure the record is clear,’’ Goodell. “The first penalties were vacated only briefly to make sure there was a distinction between what was a salary-cap violation and what was discipline on the field, which that body, as established by the CBA, made it very clear that it was the authority of the commissioner.’’

Goodell said his biggest regret is that the NFL Players Association and the league did not work in harmony on the bounty issue.

“My biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game and to make the game safer,’’ Goodell said. “Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That’s what I regret, that I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough with the union and with others. But that’s something we’re going to be incredibly relentless on."

NEW ORLEANS -- The glitz is still here, but the tone this Super Bowl week just doesn’t seem to fit with the celebrations on Bourbon Street or the free and easy nature of the host city.

The issue of player safety has been as topical as Ray Lewis' last game or brothers Jim and John Harbaugh coaching against each other.

We've heard predictions that the NFL will be gone in 30 years, or at least reduced to a game of two-hand touch. President Barack Obama hypothetically has wondered whether or not he would let a son play football. Current players have said they "signed up" for a violent game and all that may eventually come with it, even as thousands of former players are pursuing lawsuits claiming the NFL failed to warn them of the long-term effects of concussions.

ESPN.com surveyed a group of current and former players and executives to get their thoughts on the player-safety issues.

The group included current San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman, former NFL cornerback Eric Davis, current Baltimore safety Ed Reed, retired quarterback Bobby Hebert, former NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira, former linebacker Willie McGinest, current San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith, NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth, current Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, retired lineman Shaun O’Hara, current San Francisco fullback Bruce Miller, longtime Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt and current San Francisco guard Alex Boone.

[+] EnlargeEric Davis
AP Photo/Kevin Terrell"Let's be real honest," former NFL safety Eric Davis said. "It's a gladiator sport. Coliseums were built for it."
Here are the highlights of their answers to the hot-button questions:

Where do you see the NFL in 30 years?

Brandt: "I don’t think we’re Montgomery Ward. Montgomery Ward, at one time, was the leading retailer in the world and they made the mistake of saying we’re not going to go into the little towns, we’re just going to go into these big places, and they stood still. The league may doze, but it will never close. They’re always looking for ways to make things better. They’ve been working on making the game safer and they’ll continue to make it safer."

Pereria: "I see it not a whole lot different than it is. I think the league will go as far as it can and still go further than it is now to try to make the game safer. But I don’t think it’s going to make the league disappear as some people have said. I think this is still a once-a-week game that people get very passionate about their games."

McGinest: "I think the NFL definitely is going to be here to stay. I think that this is the best game in the world. I think that they’re doing everything in their power to keep it that way and to make it one of the safest games. I don't think it's going to look different. I think they're just changing certain things to make it safer. If you're talking about hit zones, if you're talking about staying away from head shots and stuff like that, that's not something we're not used to hearing. So I don't think we're going to go back to leather helmets with no face masks or no helmets. This game is going to be the way it is. I just think they're doing everything and taking every precaution to make it safer."

O’Hara: "Football is not going to disappear in 30 years. Will it look different? Of course it'll look different. Look at the game 30 years ago to today -- different game, different rules, different equipment. So 30 years from now, absolutely, it'll be a different game."

Are the safety concerns overblown?

Foxworth: "My responsibility is just to protect the rights of the players and their health and safety, so I don't think that there can be enough [attention given to safety issues], especially given some of the things that have happened as a result of some of the head injuries. I'm pretty sure that those players and their families would say that there's no such thing as too much attention on the health and safety of the guys. So I come from that standpoint, and, being a former player, it's something I'm keenly aware of from a personal standpoint, and a lot of my friends are in this league and I know a lot of our kids may potentially be in this league. So it's very important that we put as much effort, time and money toward evolving the game and the science of the game as we can."

Smith: "The game is what we signed up for. We didn’t sign up for tennis. We didn’t sign up for swimming and didn’t realize we were going to go out there and get tackled. We signed up for football, which we knew was a physical sport.”

Davis: "Let’s be real honest. It’s a gladiator sport. Coliseums were built for it. People like to watch it and we’re talking about big, strong, fast men. There are going to be collisions. There are going to be injuries. Do all the things you have to do to make it as safe as possible, but the reality is there’s always going to be some danger."

Hebert: "A little bit. But the NFL is so popular because it’s the modern-day gladiator. I mean, I don’t know what that says about mankind. But you can also look at boxing and ultimate fighting and how popular they are. Fans don’t want to see flag football. I still think football will be here. You can change it, but you can only change it so far."

McGinest: "I think it's necessary based on some of the studies, some of the former players and what they're going through, some of the players now. It's necessary. And it's also showing that the NFL cares about its players. If they're taking time to put on these full-on studies and they're going through every precaution with the testing of the gear and the helmets and they are willing to change certain things about the game to make sure that it's going to be here and be a safer game, it has all the signs of going in the right direction."

Boone: "I just never understood how you change the game when you have players who are bigger, stronger and faster every year. It’s just football. It’s going to be physical. It’s a physical sport. There are going to be injuries, but we’re doing things to correct it.''

What one change would you make to improve safety?

Pereria: "The safety issue is really all about the head. That’s something the league has been focusing on for a long time and they’ll continue to focus on making the rules broader than they are right now. Right now, only nine players are protected in certain situations. Can you go further? Possibly. The whole notion is going to try to be to get the head out of the game and get back to the wrap and tackling as opposed to lowering the head. They’re serious about that, and they should be. To me, as I watch so much football on Sundays, it’s already made a difference. You see situations where a defender really has a chance to blow up a receiver and he doesn’t. To me, that means the rules are taking effect and that the fines have made a difference."

Davis: "They’re making the game safe for quarterbacks and star players. But they’re not making it safer for all players. You never hear of a defenseless running back. You never hear of a defenseless linebacker. Defensive players aren’t protected. Unless you make it safer for all players, I don’t think you’re doing as much good as you can. You have to put everyone on equal footing."

Reed: "Defensive players should be protected, too. Offensive guys, quarterbacks in general, shouldn't be treated better than everybody on the football field.''

McGinest: "I would take out the chop-block. That's another thing we don't talk about. A lot of emphasis is on the head, guys getting concussions and stuff, but there are also a lot of players getting their ACLs knocked out because now guys are diving. Now that they know they can't go high, guys are starting to attack with chop-blocking. That's also knocking guys' careers either out or messing them up. Not everybody's Adrian Peterson coming back from those injuries. A lot of guys, they take the wrong hit on the knee, they're never the same player."

O’Hara: "I think the only real way to get everybody on the same page is to somehow get all the players in the NFL and all the coaches in the NFL and all the referees, get everybody in the same building and have, 'This is what is acceptable and this is what is not.' No second- and third-person regurgitation of the facts and, 'Here's what we're looking for,' because that needs to be consistent and everybody needs to hear the same message. Centralize the education, basically."

What else can be done to make things safer?

Hebert: "I think you truly have to take it out of the players' hands as far as whether you’re going to go back into the game or not after a head injury. As a player, when it comes to your teammates, you never want to be looked upon as a wuss. You want to be a tough son of a gun. To me, it totally has to be out of the hands of the players."

[+] EnlargeShaun O'Hara
AP Photo/Mel Evans"You wouldn't give your son a circular saw and let him go and start whittling wood," former lineman Shaun O'Hara said. "You would teach him how to use that."
Davis: "Look, the guys I played with and the guys that are playing now were schooled a certain way. It’s too late for us and maybe too late for the guys still playing in the NFL. But the next generation is where a difference can be made. The kids that are coming into Pop Warner now need to be taught how to tackle properly. And maybe, just as importantly, they have to be taught that if you get dinged, if you take a hit to the head and you don’t feel right, you go straight to the coach or the doctors and tell them immediately. People do that with ankle injuries. You hurt your ankle, you come out of the game. Head injuries need to be treated the same way."

Foxworth: "In nine years, you can ask me that question and I'll have a definitive answer. But I don't know. We don't know how much damage repetitive hits do or whether it's the big knockout blows that do the damage. There are just so many questions. We're not sure about the best treatments and the quicker recovery time and if there are any precursors that make someone predisposed to have these kinds of brain injuries. Those are questions that will be answered by this Harvard research, and at that point, I think we can be able to set forth clear protocols of how to treat a player after a practice or how many hits [before] it's time to sit a guy out. Those sorts of things that are changes that can be made easily."

Brandt: "I think it’s like the Internet. People that are older, like myself, are not Internet-savvy. Kids that are 7 or 8 know more about it than I do. I think it’s a thing that you build from the bottom up. Where I think we have a problem is that we have a lot of youth football leagues and the guys that are coaching sometimes get overzealous. I think we’re gradually educating that element."

Would you let a young son start playing football right now?

Bowman: "I’m not going to deter my kids from the game. When they see the game, they understand what it’s all about. It’s a physical game."

Suggs: I respect [the president's comments] for the simple fact that this is a very physical and dangerous sport, especially considering that with the concussions and the current findings of Junior Seau. A parent would be reluctant [to let] his or her child play football. I think, if you play the game right and you play it appropriately, that injuries are part of the game.''

Pereria: "Sure, I would. But I’d also be out there with him, coaching and working with the coaches to make sure that the game, at that level, is being coached properly and that kids are keeping their heads up and abiding by the rules that are still in the NFL rule book, which defines tackling as wrapping your arms around the opponent and taking him to the ground."

Miller: “Everyone has their own opinions, but I would let my kid play football. It’s a violent game, but not too violent. At the same time it builds character, hard work, dedication, responsibility. All of those things are important. They are taking caution to be careful and concerned for the players’ safety and taking that into account more.”

Foxworth: "My son's so young, I like to think that we would have made advances by the time he's old enough to play to make it safer. Given the current state of the game, I wouldn't stop him from playing it, but I'd be very cautious about the exposure and the frequency with which he may come into contact with those type of dangers."

O’Hara: "If my son wanted to play football, I would absolutely let him. I would drive him. But I would teach him. You wouldn't give your son a circular saw and let him go and start whittling wood. You would teach him how to use that. There's a proper way to use power tools. So my issue is, when I hear parents say, 'I don't want him to play football,' well, it's because you don't want to take the time to teach him how to do it right. Or you don't know how to teach him right. So that, to me, is a big sticking point. When I see kids that want to play football, I just want them to learn it the right way. We need to make sure our coaches are teaching our kids the right way to do things, because for every one kid that gets hurt, that's something that could affect a whole lifetime."

NFL walks away from Saints fight

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
2:54
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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.

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.
We hadn’t heard from filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, the man who released the infamous Gregg Williams audiotape to the media and added another controversial layer to the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program, in quite some time.

But that’s over. Pamphilon has spoken up again. On his personal website Pamphilon wrote a post that’s longer than some books I have read. He recounts his decision to go public with the audio and a lot of what he says is similar to what he’s said in the past. But there are some new twists.

Most significantly, he details how former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee and now a member of the Cleveland Browns, urged him to go public.

Pamphilon was given access to the Saints as he worked on a documentary on former New Orleans special-teams star Steve Gleason, who has been diagnosed with ALS. Gleason and his wife initially were opposed to the tape being released.

“They were emphatic Steve wasn’t willing to “burn that bridge," Pamphilon wrote.

Pamphilon said Fujita began acting as an intermediary to help convince the Gleasons to give their blessing on releasing the tapes. That never happened, and Pamphilon said his agreement with Gleason did not give the former player the right to veto the release of the tape. But Pamphilon said Fujita continued to encourage him to go public, at one point saying “sooner the better."

Pamphilon also said Fujita led him to believe that New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees also was in favor of releasing the tape. But Pamphilon got a phone message from Brees just as the tape was being released.

“In the voicemail, Brees never says NOT to release it,’’ Pamphilon wrote.

Pamphilon also said the NFLPA, including executive director DeMaurice Smith, was aware of the tape’s existence before it was released.

“At 3:12 in the afternoon Fujita texts me right after a conversation with DeMaurice Smith and says Smith 'brought up the release of the audio and his only question was if it will be released raw or edited?'" Pamphilon wrote.

Pampilon also wrote in great detail about the aftermath from the release of the tapes. Some of it was centered on people questioning his motives and his fractured relationship with Gleason. He also expresses disappointment in Brees. But the strongest part was reserved for Fujita, who no longer talks to Pamphilon.

Fujita recently met with the Cleveland media and denied any knowledge of a bounty program. When asked about the tape, Fujita said it was merely evidence of a coach saying some inappropriate things.

“In no way is this intended to be a cheap shot, but there is no chance in hell I would allow (Fujita) to teach either of my sons, an ethics class,’’ Pamphilon wrote.

There had been some talk that this season’s Pro Bowl could be held in New Orleans.

That’s not going to happen. According to a joint statement just sent out by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the 2013 Pro Bowl will be played in Hawaii. The game is set for Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. ET at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said several weeks ago that the Pro Bowl would be played either in New Orleans or Honolulu. I guess you could say Honolulu “won’’ out, but I’m not sure that’s completely accurate. I’m sure the event would have brought some economic benefits to New Orleans if the game were played there.

But let’s be real honest here. The Pro Bowl isn’t what it once was. If you need further evidence, go back and watch the first play of last year’s game, when offensive and defensive linemen almost didn’t even touch one another. The press release contains quotes from a union official and NFL official, saying both sides are committed to making the game competitive.

Yeah, good luck on that one. The Pro Bowl as it is now is basically nothing more than a tourist attraction. Let Hawaii, which does a great job of rolling out the red carpet when the game is in town, have that.

New Orleans gets the real thing the week after that. On Feb. 3, Super Bowl XLVII will be played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. At least we know that will be a real football game.
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.


Don’t look for quick rulings on the appeals of the suspensions of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith.

Wrapping up an owners meeting in Atlanta, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he will not rule on the appeals until after grievances filed by the NFL Players Association have been resolved. One grievance previously was heard by an arbitrator, but not ruling has been issued. Another grievance is scheduled to be heard by a system arbitrator May 30. Goodell also said he can foresee a release of evidence in the Saints’ bounty scandal after the appeals process is over.

Goodell declined comment on a defamation lawsuit filed by Vilma.

Goodell said he knows a lot of fans are unhappy with the suspensions he’s handed out to players, coaches and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. Appeals for Loomis and the coaches already have been heard and their suspensions have been upheld. But Goodell said he’s looking forward to meeting with the players during the appeals process.

“That’s what the appeals process is for,’’ Goodell said. “You want to hear what the players have to say. When we get to the appeals, we’ll be able to talk about it and we’ll be able to hear from one another.’’
New Orleans Saints fans, who have been screaming for the NFL to produce more evidence in the bounty scandal, just might get their wish.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma has filed a defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The suit claims Goodell made false statements about Vilma while discussing the league’s investigation of the bounty system. Vilma has drawn the harshest punishment of any player, drawing a suspension for the 2012 season. The league has identified Vilma as a leader of the bounty program and said he put up money as an incentive for Saints defenders to injure opponents.

Vilma has repeatedly denied those allegations and he did it again Thursday on his Twitter account.

"As I've said before..I NEVER PAID, NOR INTENDED TO PAY ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY,TO ANY PLAYER FOR INTENTIONALLY HURTING AN OPPONENT. "Maybe this will get some people(‘s) attention."

Vilma already has appealed the suspension to Goodell and the NFL Players Association has filed grievances on behalf of Vilma and the three other suspended players. But the lawsuit against Goodell ups the stakes.

It may take the ball out of the NFL’s court. When Goodell was playing judge and jury, the NFL only revealed the evidence it wanted to. In a court of law, the NFL could be forced to reveal all of its evidence and where it came from.

The lawsuit asks for unspecified legal damages, but I don’t think Vilma is simply looking for money. I think he’s trying to clear his name and resume his career. Vilma is the only person to take to the legal system so far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the coaches, administrators or other players who have been punished or named in the investigation follow his lead.

Appeals of player suspensions in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program haven’t been filed yet, but the NFL Players Association has gone ahead and started the legal ball rolling.

The union filed a grievance with the NFL’s vice president of labor arbitration and litigation, Buckley Brooks. The NFLPA also has asked for system arbitration.

The filings claim that the punishments “violated the (league’s) duty of fairness to the players.” The union also claims various procedural requirements of the collective-bargaining agreement were violated, including the limits of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s authority, and a failure to disclose sufficient evidence.

The league has said all along that the ultimate decision on any discipline rested with Goodell.

The union also claims that a big chunk of the three-year bounty program doesn’t even qualify for discipline. The union says that part of the collective-bargaining agreement, signed last summer, stipulated that the league agreed to overlook any conduct matters from prior to the agreement.

Much of the specific evidence cited in the announcement of the punishments was related to games in the playoffs at the end of the 2009 Super Bowl season.

New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the entire 2012 season, and linebacker Will Smith will be suspended for the first four games. Former New Orleans defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, drew an eight-game suspension, and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, will be suspended for the first three games.
The fallout from the suspensions of players in the New Orleans Saints' bounty program literally is turning into a “he-said/she-said’’ battle.

Earlier, we told you that NFL outside counsel Mary Jo White said the league had ample evidence to justify the evidence.

Now, Richard Smith, the lead outside counsel for the NFL Players Association is firing back.

“I was at the meeting with the NFL’s lead investigators in March. She was not there,’’ Smith said. “Anyone, especially former prosecutors like both of us, know that what the league provided could never be called ‘substantial evidence’ of player participation in a ‘pay-to-injure’ program. Worse yet, Mary Jo provided nothing new or compelling today beyond another press briefing.’’


There have been so many subplots to the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program that some significant ones have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Thanks to Jeff Schultz for bringing attention to one of them. In this column, Schultz writes about the role and stance the NFL Players Association has taken and suggests the union change its name to “the Union of People We Feel Like Representing."

He’s got an excellent point. In its statement after the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove were announced, the union said it had “not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players’ involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program."

That’s a pretty standard line from the NFLPA. Think back to last year’s lockout. How many times did we hear the union say that the NFL would not share information how much each team was making, even though the league repeatedly said the union had been supplied with as much information as possible.

It’s a similar story this time. Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has admitted the bounty program took place and there is that damning audiotape of Williams talking to his players the night before last season’s playoff game at San Francisco. The NFL also has said that multiple sources said Vilma offered $10,000 of his own money for bounties on Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. The NFL said Smith assisted Williams in establishing and funding the bounty program. The league also said Hargrove submitted a “signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it’’. The league also said Fujita pledged a significant amount of money to the bounty program.

What more evidence does the union want?

Obviously, the union is prepared to stand by Vilma, Smith, Hargrove and Fujita, who just happens to be a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee, as they make their expected appeals. Any union should stand by its members because they pay dues that should bring them support from their union.

But this is where things head to an area that looks to be painted in multiple shades of gray. The NFLPA will try to protect the four suspended members.

That screams out one huge question -- what about the union’s hundreds of other members? They pay dues too and, presumably, that buys them protection as well. Shouldn’t the union be standing by Favre and Warner, who paid dues for years? And shouldn’t the union be protecting Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who the league said were also targets of the bounty program?

By standing so firmly with the suspended players, the union seems to be giving the appearance it doesn’t care about its other members or their safety and welfare. I’m sure the union would dispute that and say it cares about all its members and there’s probably truth in that.

But perception is everything. And the way the union has handled this thing so far sure make it look like it has a serious conflict of interest on its hands.

Maybe the union should step aside on this one. I don't see how you fully can stand up for the rights of your players when one group is trying to hurt another group. The union can pick a side, if it wants. But maybe choosing to not pick a side and staying out of this one is the only way the union can avoid the perception of a conflict of interest.
As expected, the New Orleans Saints opened their offseason program without quarterback Drew Brees.

I’m sure the fact he is carrying the franchise tag, hasn’t signed his tender and wants a long-term contract is part of the reason Brees didn’t show at the team’s Metairie facility. We’ve known that was coming since Friday, when it was reported that Brees wasn’t planning to attend.

But there’s a bit of a twist to this story. Even if Brees had signed a new contract weeks or months ago, he still might not have joined his teammates Monday. Brees reportedly is in New York at the NFL’s offices. Brees, former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith reportedly are meeting with league officials. NFLPA president Dominique Foxworth and union legal representatives also reportedly are in attendance.

Brees and Fujita are members of the NFLPA’s executive committee. Presumably, the meeting is related to the league’s investigation of player involvement in a bounty program. The NFL already has issued a $500,000 fine, stripped the Saints of two draft picks and suspended coach Sean Payton (for a full season), general manager Mickey Loomis (for the first eight games of the season) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (for the first six games of the 2012 season).

The league has said 22 to 27 players were involved in the bounty program and has said fines and suspensions are possible. But no official announcement on player discipline has been made.

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