Headlines can be misleading, intentionally or otherwise. Monday’s development in the bounty case — the decision by Stephen Burbank to reject one of the grievances filed by the NFLPA on behalf of the suspended players — has been interpreted by many as a decision that the appeals have failed and that the suspension will be served.
That’s not what it means.
The gist of the nine-page ruling is that, while Burbank has the sole ability to determine whether teams have violated the salary cap via additional payments to players above and beyond their contracts, that rule doesn’t apply to the three players accused of funding the alleged bounty pool, since the players aren’t the “team.”
That’s it. Sometimes (OK, rarely), it really is that simple.
As the NFLPA’s statement in response to the decision points out, Burbank concludes his ruling by explaining clearly what the decision is not — “nothing in this opinion is intended to convey a view about the underlying facts or the appropriateness of the discipline imposed.”
In light of the language of the labor deal, Burbank likely made the right call. As to Packers defensive Anthony Hargrove, over whose claim Burbank retained jurisdiction pending clarification by the NFL as to the behavior for which he has been punished, Burbank gave the NFL a clear roadmap for keeping the discipline away from Burbank’s authority.
The NFLPA still has a pending grievance that attacks Commissioner Roger Goodell’s ability to punish any players for conduct occurring before the current labor deal was signed in August 2011, and that argues the appeals should be handled by Ted Cottrell or Art Shell. The players could win on either of those points.
Besides, the appeals still have to be handled on the merits (unless the NFLPA prevails on its argument that player are immune for anything that happened before August 2011). If Goodell hears the appeals and upholds the suspensions, a legal challenge may be pursued on the back end.
Thus, the NFLPA initially has failed in its effort to shift the process away from Goodell and to Stephen Burbank. That’s all that happened.
And that decision will be appealed, so there’s still a chance that the players will prevail on that point.
So regardless of how badly you may want all of this to be over, there’s still a long way to go.