The NFL is back in the place where it doesn’t possess total control over the outcome. And the latest courthouse into which the league has ventured could end up giving the league bad news.
At a hearing regarding Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s effort to lift his suspension while litigation aimed at overturning it proceeds, Judge Helen G. Berrigan said that she will rule for Vilma, if she can find a way to legally do it.
That nugget comes from the Twitter account of Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman, who is attending the hearing.
While the judge seems to be inclined to favor Vilma and the other players, it’s still unclear how this will all play out. She could send the case back to Goodell, something that NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler said would be the equivalent of “Groundhog Day.”
Judge Berrigan also seems to think that she must wait for the appeal of Richard Burbank’s decision that the bounty punishments fall beyond the labor deal’s provision regarding salary-cap violations, which would rob the Commissioner of jurisdiction over the discipline. Kessler has argued that the court can decide on its own that the Commissioner lacks jurisdiction to suspend players for conduct detrimental to the game if she believes that, in the end, the case arises from circumventing the salary cap by giving the players extra money for big hits that sent players out of games.
Plenty of things could happen in court today. The judge could lift the suspension as to Vilma pending further litigation, she could dismiss the players’ effort to overturn the suspensions, or she could overturn the suspensions. Or she could wait for the appeal of the Burbank ruling.
Regardless of what she does and when she does it, the final outcome is destined to be appealed by the losing party. The ultimate question is whether the players will be permitted to play while the appeals court process plays itself out.
As a result, there’s a chance that the players could ultimately lose — but only after they have been permitted to play all of the 2012 season.