NFL lawyers filed a motion in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on Friday, arguing that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue should be allowed to hear appeals on the Saints' bounties case next week.
In their motion, NFL lawyers quote defendant Jonathan Vilma's statement to ESPN in which he supported Tagliabue being appointed to the role, saying, "I think it's a good first step for Paul to be the neutral arbitrator."
NFL lawyers wrote that, "Mr. Vilma was right that commissioner Tagliabue was a good appointment.
"Commissioner Tagliabue has the experience necessary to assess whether the conduct the players engaged in was detrimental to the league and, if so, to assess the propriety of the discipline that commissioner Goodell imposed. It is difficult to think of anyone else more qualified."
The action comes after the players' union and the four players suspended in the bounties' case filed a motion asking that Tagliabue recuse himself from the case because of what they say is a conflict of interest. They want a neutral arbitrator to be appointed by the court.
NFL lawyers argue that the NFL Players Association has no basis to accuse Tagliabue of "anything nefarious," saying that the players' union itself admitted that Tagliabue has not had any "personal involvement in the investigation, arbitration or litigation of the 'bounty' matter."
The union now has until 1 p.m. ET Monday to file its response. The hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, subject to any rulings.
The players association has concerns about "ethical and legal" issues involving Tagliabue hearing appeals by Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove.
Vilma received the stiffest suspension of the four -- ruled out for the entire season -- but he played last Sunday while the appeals process is in motion.
The union also contends that pay-for-hits programs such as the one the NFL says operated in New Orleans existed when Tagliabue was commissioner, with his knowledge.
Tagliabue was NFL commissioner from 1989-2006. For part of that time, Goodell was the league's general counsel.
Goodell handed down the suspensions in May, and they took effect in July after initial appeals were rejected by Goodell. Those suspensions lasted through training camp before being vacated by a three-member appeals panel that instructed Goodell to start the disciplinary process again and clarify his reasons for suspending the players.
The suspensions were reissued by the NFL two weeks ago and promptly appealed by all four players.
Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder and The Associated Press was used in this report.