Following Monday’s three-hour marathon meeting between Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Commissioner Roger Goodell, someone leaked to the media an affidavit signed by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, which states that Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game.
At that’s precisely what it says, at paragraph No. 12 on pages 5 to 6 of the document. (It’s technically a “declaration,” not an affidavit. Both are signed under penalty of perjury, but unlike an affidavit a declaration isn’t notarized.)
Its timing raises many fair questions, even if the NFL would prefer that the questions not be asked. Amazingly, Williams signed the document three days ago, on September 14, 2012.
So here are the questions and issues that Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, likely will be preparing to ask and/or raise.
How did this declaration come to be?
Williams, whom the league previously identified as someone who corroborated the offer, presumably hadn’t previously reduced his words to writing. Why didn’t he?
Who wrote the declaration?
The declaration consists of a clean, crisp, logical narrative — the kind of document lawyers routinely write. So who wrote it? Williams’ lawyer, based on a meeting with Williams? Or the NFL’s lawyers, based on whatever Williams told the league (or, possibly, the league’s interpretation thereof)?
Why was it written now?
The September 7 ruling of an internal appeals board vacated the suspensions of Vilma and three other players on technical grounds. The decision gave the league a do-over, and the decision to harvest a declaration from Williams three days before the meeting with Vilma proves that the NFL opted to embrace its mandated Mulligan.
What promises were made to Williams, expressly or implicitly?
It’s fair to ask whether and to what extent Williams has received anything in return for his cooperation. Did the league hint that he’ll be more likely to be reinstated if he signs the declaration?
Will Williams testify at the internal appeal hearing?
Assuming the NFL once again suspends Vilma, an internal appeals hearing will be conducted. And it will be impossible to properly probe the nooks and crannies of the Williams declaration unless Williams testifies. So Williams surely will have to testify, and he will have to be exposed to cross examination. Otherwise, the declaration will be worthless.
What other declarations have been obtained?
The league possibly didn’t stop with a declaration from Williams. The league possibly has revisited the question of whether its previously undisclosed whistleblower (widely believed to be former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo) should be “outed” as a witness, given that the undisclosed whistleblower presumably has also corroborated the Vilma offer.
Will Williams ever coach again?
Apart from the cartoonish remarks from Williams prior to the January 2012 playoff game against the 49ers, Williams’ execution of a declaration will make it difficult if not impossible for any NFL player to ever respect, listen to, or follow Williams. Thus, even if the NFL reinstates him after the 2012 season, it will be difficult for the Rams or any other NFL team to employ him as a coach. At best, Williams will be relegated to the status of consultant, perhaps helping his son, Blake, with game plans and other strategic matters.
What happens next?
Commissioner Roger Goodell will issue a decision regarding the suspensions, and the decision will be appealed, to Goodell. His final decision will surely be challenged in court, before Judge Helen G. Berrigan.
Will the declaration hold up in court?
That’s perhaps the best question of all. Vilma’s lawyer undoubtedly will argue that the league should have created and shared the Williams declaration months ago, and that any effort to cobble something together now is inherently suspect and procedurally defective.
In hindsight, Vilma’s lawyer should have declined to meet with Goodell, taking instead the position that the official record of evidence is closed, and that Goodell must merely make a new decision clarifying whether he was issuing the suspensions for conduct detrimental to the game (which he has the sole authority to do under the labor deal), or whether he was punishing the players for salary-cap violations (which he does not have the authority to do).
What should the other players do?
Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove are due to meet with Goodell on Tuesday. They should consider refusing to meet, taking the position that the NFL is stuck with the evidence that already has been produced (or not produced), and that Goodell should simply reissue the decisions.
We’ll find out soon enough whether that happens. For now, though, it’s clear to us that the Williams declaration would have been far more valuable and relevant if it had been written and signed back in February or March. Though there would still be questions, there wouldn’t be as many — and they wouldn’t be as compelling.