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Monday, June 25, 2012
Appeals giving bounty story legs

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Friday's back-and-forth between the NFLPA and the NFL over Roger Goodell's handling of the Saints' bounty case had some interesting revelations.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith requested the league re-do its investigation of the Saints' pay-per-hit program. The league said it stands by its evidence.

What was most interesting in the Pro Football Talk interviews was a comment made by the league's top legal counsel, Jeff Pash. Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and the three other suspended players have complained vehemently about the process by which they were accused and feel they didn't have a chance to challenge the evidence.

The league countered by saying the players didn't cooperate.

In talking about the appeal process, Pash described how this disciplinary case wasn't a normal court-of-law procedure that follows the defense's ability to challenge everything.

"Let's remember we are not talking about a murder case here," Pash told PFT. "This is not a criminal court. This is a workplace disciplinary setting. The procedures that are followed here, as De indicated quite candidly and correctly, are procedures that have been in place for decades. If you look at the collective bargaining agreement back when commissioner Pete Rozelle was in office, the language of the agreement concerning commissioner discipline is almost identical to what it is in the current agreement.

"The reason for that is there has been a long-standing recognition that when you are addressing issues of integrity of the game, public confidence or player safety, there needs to be a clear and consistent authority and a clear and consistent manner of dealing with the issues. That authority has been imposed by the commissioner by agreement with the players for decades. The process here is exactly what everyone has understood it would be for decades, and it is exactly what was followed in this case."

Except for the fact the league spent three years investigating the Saints, Goodell is handling the penalties much like he would a fine or suspension for an overly aggressive hit during a game. A player can challenge that penalty and the league will review the tape and decide if it wants to lower the penalty.

Figuring the suspensions are going to be upheld, the union and the players may try to continue to fight to see if they can change the disciplinary system. The players agreed to the structure last August when they signed the new CBA, so the union and the players would have to gain some leverage by winning an outside lawsuit or find a way to negotiate an adjustment.

You would have to think such change will be discussed in talks between Smith and the NFL as both sides try to come to an agreement on HGH testing or on trying to have stiffer penalties against DUIs. By contract, though, the NFL doesn't have to change the procedure for now.

This story won't go away.

From the inbox

Q: Drew Brees has not shown up to any of the Saints' offseason activities this year due to a contract holdout. They haven't reached a deal, and I'm a bit worried about the other guys on this Saints team. Do you believe that Brees not being there will have an adverse effect on the team as a whole?

Chris in Largo, Fla.

A: Everyone figures that Brees will be on the team. He'll either get a long-term deal or at some point just sign the franchise tender. He's not going to sit out a year. But I think it's pretty clear there will be an impact on the offense from this horrible offseason. Brees was able to throw for more than 5,000 yards with no offseason last year, so he can put up numbers. I just question whether the Saints can win the close games as well as they have in the past. They aren't as good along the offensive line with the loss of Carl Nicks. Their defense is in transition after the departure of Gregg Williams. Plus, the division is better. The Saints have a tough task ahead just to make the playoffs.

Q: The Bucs have obviously picked and designed their offense to make Josh Freeman their QB for years to come. Are they making a mistake?

Mark in Kansas

A: I'm a big believer in Freeman. I think he has enough talent to become an elite quarterback. I wasn't sold he had enough weapons last season. Sure, he forced too many throws and made more mistakes, but he had to do more things because the defense wasn't as good as it was the year before. The Bucs have their franchise quarterback for the next several years. Once they get through this year, they must think about signing him to a long-term contract.

Q: Do you think that Roger Goodell gave out harsher punishments to the Saints' players to get them to appeal the punishments? This allows him to test his authority and set a precedent for the next nine years of the CBA.

Mike in Seattle

A: I don't think so. I think the league made examples out of the parties involved to try to prevent bounties from happening in the future. Goodell used the Saints' bounties to eliminate all types of performance pools in the locker room. It would have been easier to take more players and give them smaller suspensions, but it wouldn't have had the impact of long suspensions. Goodell knew the players and the NFLPA would appeal because the players weren't cooperating. There is no need to test the power when you have the power. Goodell has the power on this, like it or not.

Q: Do the Dolphins stand a chance at all in the AFC East? Is Ryan Tannehill a good choice for the future?

Drake in Malibu, Calif.

A: They don't have a chance to win the division. The New England Patriots have the best team in the AFC East and the easiest schedule in the league. The question is whether the Dolphins are good enough to get a wild card. I'd say not this year. The quarterback position is in transition. They are switching defensive schemes. They are understaffed at wide receiver. There are some good parts to this team; it has good defensive talent. Although they could use a safety, the Dolphins can get by there because they have good cornerbacks and decent depth in the secondary. I think Tannehill will do a decent job as long as they don't rush him to start early in the season.

Q: I feel that a lot of the helmet-to-helmet contact that results in head injuries is due to a lack of fear on the part of the one delivering the hit. If the NFL were to limit the amount of bars on the face mask, players would be more cautious to hit as hard as they can.

Kevin in Chicago

A: You are following a traditionalist's theory and you may be right. Old-school football observers believe if you minimize the face mask, players would fear potential facial injuries and not use their helmets as weapons. I still believe as much protection as possible is needed. If the worry is concussions -- which it is -- exposing the jaw or lower face to more trauma could be a problem. These are questions top technicians need to figure out and figure out fast. Resolving these issues is vital to the future of football.

Miami's Ryan Tannehill
The Dolphins would be wise to bring Ryan Tannehill along slowly.

Q: I'm a 49ers fan. Just saw an article on best players with no SB ring. My question is, if Randy Moss were to win a ring this year, how gratifying would it be if it ended up that he wasn't all that involved and that it's the defense that is most remembered?

Kurt in Tempe, Ariz.

A: A Super Bowl ring is a Super Bowl ring. If Moss were to get one as a role player, all involved would be delighted. It's adventurous to think defense is good enough to win Super Bowls these days. Six quarterbacks on six franchises since 2003 have Super Bowl rings. We've seen teams with low-ranking defenses make and win Super Bowls. For the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, Moss would have to do more.

Q: Why wouldn't the NFL mandate the Mark Kelso-type padded helmet to reduce concussions? I assume it is for vanity reasons that shiny helmets look better on TV. But if the league is serious about concussions, this seems like a logical step, right?

Will in Washington, D.C.

A: If it worked for Kelso, the former Buffalo Bills safety, it should work for others. If you remember the story, Kelso had a problem with concussions that was about to end his career. He tried a heavily padded helmet and was able to finish his career successfully. Sure, the helmet looked old fashioned and unattractive. More players should try that approach if they find it can work.