NFL: Saints appeals on Thursday
NEW YORK -- Saints head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt are set to have their NFL appeals heard Thursday regarding the punishment they've received for their roles in New Orleans' bounty system.
League spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed the hearing schedule in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday afternoon, about two hours after Payton's agent, Don Yee, said the coach and NFL were "trying to schedule a mutually convenient time for the proceedings" that would not interfere with people's plans for the upcoming religious holidays.
Aiello also said former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has since taken a job as defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams, did not appeal his indefinite suspension.
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Payton for all of next season, Loomis was suspended for eight games, Vitt for six, and the Saints were fined $500,000 and docked two second-round draft picks.
The unusually tough penalties stemmed from an NFL probe which concluded from 2009-11 the Saints offered improper cash bonuses for big hits that either knocked opponents out of games or left them needing help off of the field.
Payton's suspension -- due to start last Sunday -- has been on hold pending his appeal, allowing him to get in a few extra days of work as he rushes to create a plan that's as detailed as possible for the Saints' 2012 season.
The league had planned to hold the appeal hearings on Tuesday afternoon, but had to push back the date, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Monday.
According to the source, Payton and Loomis didn't want to have the appeal heard Tuesday and wanted it pushed back as much as possible, while the league preferred to hear the appeal as quickly as possible, according to the source.
After Saints coaches and executives, next to be determined is whether players who were involved in the bounty program will also be disciplined.
Goodell says the NFL met with the Players Association and executive director DeMaurice Smith on Monday to discuss the league's investigation of the Saints.
"We shared more information with them so they're up to speed," Goodell said Tuesday at the unveiling of the league's new Nike-designed uniforms at a film studio in Brooklyn.
Goodell added he expected to speak with Smith again as soon as Wednesday.
"I hope to be able to make some decisions soon," he said.
"I believe in getting as much information as possible," he said. "We respect the players. This is important because it's a player-safety matter. We think that we need to get some input from them."
According to the league, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any New Orleans player who sidelined Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre during the 2010 NFC championship game. That was one example the league released from its investigation. No other players involved have been publicly identified by the NFL.
Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who was modeling his team's new uniform at the NFL's fashion show, called possible player suspensions by the league "ridiculous."
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"We're players. We're going out there to make plays. That's what the game is about," he said. "You play defense; your job is to tackle.
"They can say they put a bounty out on me when I got knocked out against San Francisco in the playoffs. You can say they put a bounty out on me. Who knows? But they're just targeting us right now," he said. "But I'm not faulting the guy that hit me. It's the nature of the game. That happens."
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he couldn't speak directly to the Saints situation, but for all the hits he's taken, he'd be surprised if an opponent was trying to injure him.
"We all respect each other so much," he said. "We all know how hard it is. It really surprised me that guys would want to try to intentionally hurt somebody. This is a fraternity. There's so few of us that do it. The average life expectancy is three years in the NFL or something like that.
"It would shock me if people were trying to intentionally hurt people."
Thomas said he has not spoken with Vilma or any of his other teammates on defense.
"They probably got a lot on their plate as it is. It's not my business to jump in," he said.
Payton has spoken to his old boss, former Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells, about possibly taking over the Saints while he is suspended.
Goodell has said he would be fine with Parcells stepping in. Thomas liked the idea, too.
"I mean, it would be great. That's somebody coach Payton always talked about in meetings, admired him," Thomas said. "He seemed like a great coach. I never played underneath him, but I learned a lot about him. I heard a lot about him. He seems like a great guy.
"I know we would love to have him if it happens, but we would prefer Payton to be there with his team, to lead us on the way he's been doing."
The first organized team activity for the Saints is April 16th. Thomas is hoping no matter what happens, it'll be settled by then.
"Hopefully, this doesn't keep lingering on," he said. "You don't want this to linger on while we're preparing for a season. You want to make sure everything is focused on one thing: Trying to get to that Super Bowl."
The Super Bowl, by the way, will be played on the Saints' home field at the Superdome.
Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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