Peter King of SI.com is back from vacation, and the opening portion of his Monday Morning Quarterback column served as a reminder that today is the day on which a U.S. magistrate judge will preside over an effort to resolve the lawsuits filed in connection with the bounty-related suspensions.
We’ve confirmed that the conference is still set to occur, and that it will begin at 10:30 a.m. ET.
It’s a non-binding process. The parties are required to participate in good faith, but they’re not required to settle the case. And the magistrate judge will have no authority to issue rulings or make decisions regarding whether the suspensions of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, or Browns linebacker Scott Fujita will stand.
That said, the magistrate judge will be able to meet privately with each side, pointing out weaknesses that Judge Helen G. Berrigan perceives in their respective positions. And if the magistrate judge is sufficiently persuasive, a compromise could be reached.
Still, it’s highly unlikely. The parties have pitched tents at each extreme, with no sign of wiggle room. The players want to be exonerated, and the league can’t afford to show weakness on this issue.
And so it would be a shock at this point if Thursday’s hearing on linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s effort to block his suspension pending the outcome of the litigation doesn’t proceed as scheduled.
Last year, a magistrate judge ultimately brokered a settlement of the lockout, which ended 52 weeks ago today. But that dispute was always destined to end via an agreement among the parties. This one has always seems like a controversy that would careen its way into a courtroom, where one side will win completely — and the other side will lose completely.
UPDATE 11:18 a.m. ET: Per the Associated Press, Vilma said while entering the courthouse that he’s “hoping we can get something accomplished.” Making that actually happen remains a long shot.