The back-and-forth regarding the question of whether the NFL offered or hinted or suggested that the suspension of linebacker Jonathan Vilma would be cut from 16 games to eight has subsided, but the impression remains that the league is willing to do something to resolve the lawsuits that Vilma has filed in response to his penalty.
And that has caused several of you to raise a very good point. If the league is going to cut Vilma’s one-year suspension in half, why not coach Sean Payton’s, too?
The difference is that Vilma has leverage. Unlike Payton, who accepted his penalty after pursuing the internal appeal process, Vilma filed a lawsuit challenging the outcome of the in-house arbitration outcome.
Payton could have filed suit. He could have argued that he and every other coach has been forced to sign what the law calls a “contract of adhesion,” a take-it-or-leave it document that contains an oppressive arbitration clause giving the NFL full power to preside over the supposedly impartial resolution of any appeals of discipline imposed by the NFL. But Payton likely realized the connection between taking his lumps and continuing to be employed by a professional football league that begins with “N” and not “C” or “U” or “L”.
If the coaches had a union and not simply an association, they’d have a greater layer of cover for situations like this. But the coaches don’t have a union, largely because none of them wants to give up their careers for the sake of the greater good.
Despite the fact that Payton doesn’t have the leverage to force a reduction, there’s speculation in some league circles that Payton could unexpectedly be reinstated in the second half of the season. That chatter came primarily from Payton’s silence in the wake of the flawed bounty evidence that the league has leaked and/or unveiled. The thinking is that Payton believes he could be allowed to return at some point late in the year, and that Payton has decided to bite his tongue in the hopes that the league office will extend the kind of gesture that in turn will make it a little easier for league officials to spend the week before the Super Bowl in and around New Orleans.
Still, any reduction in the suspension given to Vilma or any other player will prompt cries of “What about Sean?” from plenty of Saints fans, and the league needs to be prepared to explain the difference if/when that ever happens. Or to provide a similar reduction to Payton.
Despite the existence of very good reasons for the difference in the way the player and coach suspensions are being handled, the casual fan will have a hard time accepting them.