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Final bounty appeal ruling puts league in potentially delicate spot

Goodell Bounties Football AP

As Commissioner Roger Goodell prepares to re-issue discipline against four players whose suspensions were vacated last month, the good news is that Goodell finally has gotten more clarity as to what he can and can’t do.

The bad news is that Goodell finally has gotten more clarity as to what he can and can’t do.

Four weeks ago today, an internal appeals panel created by the 2011 labor deal vacated the bounty suspensions imposed against four players because it wasn’t sufficiently clear that Commissioner Roger Goodell remained within his jurisdiction to impose discipline for conduct detrimental to the game.  The summary ruling from the appeals panel promised that a full, written opinion would be generated.

The full, written opinion was issued today, and PFT has obtained a copy.  While the summary ruling created the impression that the Commissioner would be able to merely re-write the suspension letters, the full-blown opinion seems to create a stiffer challenge for the league.

The appeals panel has concluded that the portion of the Saints’ pay-for-performance/bounty program “that provided for undisclosed payments to players, whether for legitimate or illegitimate plays, falls within the explicit terms of Article 14 [of the CBA] and lies within the [System Arbitrator’s] exclusive jurisdiction.”  In English (or something close to it), this means that, if Goodell imposes any discipline for funding the pool or receiving money from the pool, he will be acting beyond his jurisdiction to impose discipline for conduct detrimental to the game.

The line ultimately is drawn by the appeals panel “between agreeing to injure other players and the agreement to participate in an undisclosed compensation arrangement.”  As a practical matter, that will be a difficult line for the Commissioner to not cross.

When removing the money from the equation, the players agreed to do what they already had an incentive to do — play the game aggressively and effectively, to the point of creating turnovers, sacks, big plays, and preventing opponents from continuing via clean, legal hits.

Is it conduct detrimental to the game to want to hit an opponent so hard (cleanly and legally) that it knocks him out of the game?  Is it conduct detrimental to the game to verbalize that desire?  In this case, the natural incentive to hit the opponent hard enough (cleanly and legally) to prevent him from continuing became conduct detrimental once a price tag was attached to the successful achievement of that goal.

How can the NFL separate the payment from the intent and still show conduct detrimental to the game, when the underlying conduct is part of a common incentive when playing football, whether it’s the late Al Davis imploring violence against the quarterback or Rex Ryan breaking out the “hot sauce” for something other than chicken wings?

When re-drafting the letters, it won’t be an easy exercise in verbal and mental gymnastics for the league’s lawyers, especially since the punishment initially flowed from the league’s bounty rules, which by their very nature are premised on money changing hands.

That’s especially the case as to Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and Saints defensive end Will Smith, who were suspended for funding the pool of money.  While Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma could be punished for allegedly urging injury to opposing quarterbacks and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove could be punished for allegedly lying to the league when the situation was first investigated in 2010, the entire situation takes on a different feel when stripping the money out of the equation, which the Commissioner must do in order to avoid having the suspensions vacated, again.

At some point, the NFL’s best course of action may be to punt.

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43 Responses to “Final bounty appeal ruling puts league in potentially delicate spot”
  1. fmwarner says: Oct 5, 2012 2:54 PM

    This is awesome. Your move, Rog.

  2. sonvar says: Oct 5, 2012 3:03 PM

    So this confirms what I was thinking after the appeals board overturned Goodell’s ruling. Which is that it’s very hard for him to make a case against the players without including the money incentive given. And with that the judgement on these players can’t be done by Goodell. I’m not a Saints fan but I have to say I’m glad the initial suspensions can’t be tacked back on easily

  3. miles58a says: Oct 5, 2012 3:10 PM

    If they are guilty like Goodell says they are then what difference does it make who’s jurisdiction it falls under. Just issue the punishment and get it over with. I still think Goodell has no evidence thats why he wants jurisdiction over it so they have to appeal back to him

  4. mikebrownfaux says: Oct 5, 2012 3:10 PM

    When re-drafting the letters, it won’t be an easy exercise in verbal and mental gymnastics for the league’s lawyers,

    _______________

    Sure it will, it goes like this “You blatantly tried to injure other players, (Brett Favre is one we know for sure of) rather it be clean and legal, or by the means of illegal hits. To play the game with the intent to injure, is detrimental to the game. Therefor you’re suspended for________”

  5. spartyfi says: Oct 5, 2012 3:14 PM

    Prime example for how Lawyers ruin everything and proof as to why those lacking in common sense tend to gravitate towards the legal profession.

    It’s one big cat chasing its tail here. Common sense dictates that you can be breaking BOTH rules at the same time..meaning, let the committe suspend/penalize for the monetary aspect and let Goodell use that evidence as further proof of a bounty system that was detrimental to the game.

    COMMON SENSE!!! Try it on for size some day.

    Time for all the knuckle scrapers out there to chime in and say they’re all innocent due to this…yup, about as innocent as OJ was when that glove didn’t fit. Innocent in court or work place proceedings is not the same as ACTUAL innocence.

  6. jaxbeachjagfan says: Oct 5, 2012 3:17 PM

    Paralysis by analysis.

  7. eaglesw00t says: Oct 5, 2012 3:19 PM

    It makes no sense to me that Goodell as the commissioner of the game cant suspend a player for conduct detrimental to the game, yet the system arbitrator can?

    Someone effed up when they wrote the CBA. Actually…several people. If we find this many faults with wording in the CBA every year, its going to be a disaster come the next time to write a new one up.

  8. silentcount says: Oct 5, 2012 3:22 PM

    And in conclusion, Goodell manipulated public outrage over nothing. The Saints were simply playing the game the same way all teams do. Sean Payton did nothing to deserve being suspended. “Told to stop, but didn’t listen” — where’s valid proof of that?

  9. totallyuselessme says: Oct 5, 2012 3:23 PM

    Just let it drop already.

    People are tired of this song and dance and nobody’s buying Roger’s ‘evidence’ anymore. He just comes off more phony, unconvincing and fake with every new incident he botches.

    Maybe if he hadn’t been so focused on this garbage (for which we’ve still seen no hard evidence) he could have gotten us a decently-trained staff of officials for the first three weeks.

    Let it go, Roger. You lost. Stop ruining our game with your power plays.

  10. jpb12 says: Oct 5, 2012 3:25 PM

    Less he says the better.

  11. purplegreenandgold says: Oct 5, 2012 3:28 PM

    at some point, the NFL’s best course of action may be to punt.
    ======================================
    or call Greg Williams and Mike Cerullo to amend their statements to suit the league.

  12. gfunk5299 says: Oct 5, 2012 3:30 PM

    Legal gymnastics or not, there is a difference between tackling a guy and trying to take their knees out.

    The league should and should have the right to encourage tackling a guy without intentionally attempting to injure them.

    Legal semantics can kiss my ass.

  13. wayupsouth says: Oct 5, 2012 3:30 PM

    Okay. So if it’s going to be that difficult for Goodell to punish these guys, what about Payton, Loomis, and Williams? I realize it’s a different issue, but if the teeth have been taken out of this punishment, what about those three? Not a cheeky question, Florio. I ask ’cause I’m interested.

  14. jpmelon says: Oct 5, 2012 3:32 PM

    clean, legal hits are supposed to be rewarded with a turnover not a concussion or broken leg.

    It’s football, injuries will happen…..but the program gave an incentive to “knock out” players and have them “carted off”. I can see how this type of program should be frowned upon.

  15. goodolebaghead says: Oct 5, 2012 3:36 PM

    If he is going to suspend people for trying to hit players so hard they leave the game, all y’all’s teams are in big trouble. Say goodbye to all your DBs.

  16. descendency says: Oct 5, 2012 3:41 PM

    Wow. Basically the two guys with an NFL future just got cleared by the judge and the two guys that are on their way out (because Vilma isn’t going to last a suspension and Hargrove is already a FA) could be re-suspended, basically.

  17. gennieleko says: Oct 5, 2012 3:47 PM

    wayupsouth – Vilma has the suit pending against Goodell and it seems to me that this will help his suit. His lawyer said on Mike and Mike that the people he cares about (Payton, Loomis and Vitt) are more important to him than playing the game. The NFL does not want that case to proceed nor do they want to go through depositions or discovery. I dont’ think he will make any kind of a deal with the NFL without including those guys in the package. He wants to clear his name, the team and the names of the other players and coaches. This ruling is a step in the right direction.

  18. daveman8403 says: Oct 5, 2012 3:52 PM

    Goodell suspension stated he suspended players for having pay-for-performance program that may or may not have injured opponents. Injuries were incidental. How can you guys not see that? pay-for-performance is a salary cap violation, which is why Goodell cannot rule on this. He has to prove that players were intentionally trying to injure opponents, which they weren’t.

  19. dretwann says: Oct 5, 2012 3:55 PM

    Intent is dificult to prove. It requires you know the thoughts of another person or their own admission. Since Roger and none of us are psychic, there is no proof of or ability to prove inrent

  20. blackngold4life says: Oct 5, 2012 3:55 PM

    Knocking the other teams star player out the game has been part of football forever.. (Especially the QB) No Flags or fines were handed down during or after said Games or to suspended players. They did what they do EVERY game

  21. hor2012 says: Oct 5, 2012 4:11 PM

    This is simply stupid. I’m a Saints fan. So, I’m invested in this. But, even with that beind said does anyone else besides me think to this is totally stupid. I’ve long sense given up on defending the Saints in this. In fact; I personal believe that there could have been a bounty program in place. But, that’s not the point. I can’t believe that the NFL rather this turns out to be factual or not didn’t dot thier I’s and cross thier T’s. Did Goodell really think that everyone would simply take this and go riding off until the night. This could have been handled by fines and additional draft picks. I don’t think anyone would have challenged that. But, now we are still dealing with this. This could still be a issue long after the players and coached invovled have retired

  22. blackbug99 says: Oct 5, 2012 4:17 PM

    I’m thinking…..time served/no appeals…..money was on the table. Let’s play some ball!!

  23. cliffordc05 says: Oct 5, 2012 4:18 PM

    At this point I believe the league could back off the individual penalties entirely. The Saints season is a mess and it may take the franchise more than a year to recover. The individual players involved have all incurred substantial legal costs. Hargrove may or may not have found a job because of the potential suspension. How much more does the league need to punish these guys?

  24. FinFan68 says: Oct 5, 2012 4:22 PM

    I think spartyfi has it right. Common sense says both aspects can be applied concurrently with differing/overlapping jurisdictions. However, if what this article implies is true, then 3 players can likely skate out of their punishment (from Goodell) until the correct authority (salary cap issues, etc.) chimes in (if they can: see below). Vilma is still screwed either way. Offering the money for taking out a specific player is slightly different than participating in a pool that rewards someone for executing the act that Vilma was hoping for (whether legal or illegal). The offer itself is detrimental and would completely fall under Goodell’s authority until money changed hands and the other body of authority is added. Vilma’s original statement was that he did not pay or intend to pay. Much later, likely after he assumed there was no audio/video evidence of the offer, he said he never made the offer. If he never made an offer his statement about intent would never have been issued–he would have simply said there was no offer at all…but he didn’t.

    There is an aspect of this case that I have yet to see addressed. This site and others claim that Goodell may have overstepped his authority. Does the salary cap authority have any jurisdiction over individual players at all? If not, the only possible way to discipline the players in this scenario is for Goodell to do exactly what he did and classify the actions/concepts as detrimental to the league. Goodell’s discipline of the team itself may have been the area where he overstepped his authority slightly (only if it was for the program as a whole and no mention of the failure to comply with investigation/warnings).

  25. ravensaintsfan says: Oct 5, 2012 4:26 PM

    spartyfi says: Oct 5, 2012 3:14 PM

    Prime example for how Lawyers ruin everything and proof as to why those lacking in common sense tend to gravitate towards the legal profession.

    It’s one big cat chasing its tail here. Common sense dictates that you can be breaking BOTH rules at the same time..meaning, let the committe suspend/penalize for the monetary aspect and let Goodell use that evidence as further proof of a bounty system that was detrimental to the game.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Quit you whining, the league signed the CBA agreement they have to live by its rules. Just like the players did…Who Dat

  26. droyer85 says: Oct 5, 2012 4:28 PM

    It’s hilarious to me how all the people who were so critical of the Saints now sound silly as more light gets shed on this case. But the sad thing is, even as we all see this was never a “bounty” program, the damage has already been done to the Saints this season. And there’s nothing the NFL can do that will make the situation any better.

    But it’s nice that finally fans of other teams realize that ALL NFL players get paid to hit people hard. It’s basically their job description.

  27. omniscient48 says: Oct 5, 2012 4:29 PM

    I see a long impasse (and lockout?) coming when this CBA expires.

  28. twisteditoff says: Oct 5, 2012 4:44 PM

    haha loserania forever enough said

  29. clssylssy says: Oct 5, 2012 5:13 PM

    ….meanwhile, Greg Williams is getting cozy with the Rams or so it would appear with his presence at their last two games. And, interestingly enough the Rams are starting to play Greg Williams style of football as seen in the two attempts last night to tackle KK by the head on two occasions and getting by with only one penalty on one that was called when there were actually three that should have been called…hmmm, wonder if Roger will be investigating the Rams now for a “bounty” program??? …and what about that lifelong suspension for Williams where he wasn’t allowed to step foot on NFL stadiums?

  30. huskylawyer says: Oct 5, 2012 5:13 PM

    No way should Hargrove be suspended. Brett Favre was fined $50k for not being “forthcoming” with the league in connection with his self photo shoot (and sexual harassment claim), and they want to suspend Hargrove? That makes no sense.

  31. mazblast says: Oct 5, 2012 5:16 PM

    The Saints must have done something to irritate The Great Goodell at some point. He wanted to hurt the Saints and did, regardless of authority or evidence. Mission accomplished, Rog, now congratulate yourself for yet another CF and have the owners award you another raise or something.

    Just don’t ask Tom Benson for a favor if you need one.

  32. skolvikes says: Oct 5, 2012 5:25 PM

    gfunk5299 says: Oct 5, 2012 3:30 PM

    Legal gymnastics or not, there is a difference between tackling a guy and trying to take their knees out.

    The league should and should have the right to encourage tackling a guy without intentionally attempting to injure them.

    Legal semantics can kiss my ass.
    —————————————————
    IF this were the case, can you please explain to us how the Saints injured the second least (STL) players in entire NFL during the time span in question (2009-2011)?

  33. blackbug99 says: Oct 5, 2012 5:50 PM

    OMG, stop w/the “Great Evil Goodel,” BS. He gets his mandate from the owners and the rules implied in the CBA. He doesn’t watch every freaking play, but he gets advice on all from a staff I’m sure. Every legal fine or action, I assume this would be correct Mike Florio, gets a thorough review from NFL Lawyers. So get off the mans back. I like him. He’s prompt and decisive!

  34. mazblast says: Oct 5, 2012 6:10 PM

    skolvikes said:

    IF this were the case, can you please explain to us how the Saints injured the second least (STL) players in entire NFL during the time span in question (2009-2011)?
    —————————————-
    Never confuse the issue by bringing up the facts. Especially if you’re a sports league commissioner who wants to do something against somebody.

  35. brian31471 says: Oct 5, 2012 6:36 PM

    This ruling clearly shows is that his case as presented to the 3 person appeals panel was very lacking in demonstrating intent to injure or the presence of a bounty system.

    The easiest way around this would be for Goodell to allow Burbank to levy the punishments, but Goodell’s huge ego won’t allow for that.

  36. fmwarner says: Oct 5, 2012 7:06 PM

    wayupsouth says: Oct 5, 2012 3:30 PM

    Okay. So if it’s going to be that difficult for Goodell to punish these guys, what about Payton, Loomis, and Williams? I realize it’s a different issue, but if the teeth have been taken out of this punishment, what about those three? Not a cheeky question, Florio. I ask ’cause I’m interested.
    ————————————————-

    The reason it’s hard for Goodell to punish the players is that the CBA with the players’ union prevents him from ruling on matters of discipline related to monetary payments. Since Payton, Loomis and Williams are not members of the NFLPA, the CBA does not apply to them and Goodell has much more freedom to punish them.

  37. fmwarner says: Oct 5, 2012 7:09 PM

    eaglesw00t says: Oct 5, 2012 3:19 PM

    It makes no sense to me that Goodell as the commissioner of the game cant suspend a player for conduct detrimental to the game, yet the system arbitrator can?

    Someone effed up when they wrote the CBA. Actually…several people. If we find this many faults with wording in the CBA every year, its going to be a disaster come the next time to write a new one up.
    ——————————————————–

    It’s the other way around. Goodell can suspend for conduct detrimental to the game, but only the arbitrator can rule on matters relating to compensation. Since compensation is essential to Goodell’s case for conduct detrimental, that’s why it’s tricky for him now.

  38. wolfmanpatriot says: Oct 5, 2012 7:14 PM

    I am liking the way this whole thing is turning out.

    I think Goodell has an emotional problem and for some reason feels the need to rule with an iron fist. Between this and the refs lockout, he has embarrassed the owners, the league in the eye of the paying public.
    They are sure to be sitting him in the corner for a well deserved time out.

    On the other hand.

    We hear quite often by people that have played that football is a violent sport, yada yada.
    Football, when invented and first played was not a violent sport.
    It was, and should be a tough, physical, hard hitting sport, but not violent.

    Some players, and coaches, even owners have a sick mindset and have incorporated violence into the sport. Some of these “people” with no consciouses take pleasure in permanently injuring an opposing player.

    The game does need to be cleaned up just a bit.
    The guys involved with this incident have been going through a bit of hell. Even if things go their way in this legal process, it gives others something to think about. The knee as well as the head are delicate parts of the human anatomy. They should be treated as such and respected.

    In summary, the game can be quite hard hitting and exciting for us fans without being dirty.
    Also, Goodell probably suffers from itsy bitsy teenie “weenie” syndrome.

  39. crubenst says: Oct 5, 2012 7:27 PM

    Based on that analysis, the appeals panel got it dead wrong. They essentially said that if money is involved its out of Goodell’s hands. But clearly there can be conduct detrimental to the league that involves money, and although it ALSO violates the salary cap, it should fall under BOTH jurisdictions.

  40. theashleyguy says: Oct 5, 2012 7:30 PM

    Roger, you’ve made your millions. Why don’t you look the players square in the face and say, “You know what? You know you did it and I know you did it, but I don’t care anymore. I quit. Go ahead and destroy your game. Turn it into professional wrestling. After a couple of years sponsors will start dropping out of sponsorship from sheer embarrassment of what you players have created and TV will have to stop offering so much money. Go ahead. Wreck everything and fight anybody who tries to clean up the game. I just don’t care anymore.”

  41. thefirstsmilergrogan says: Oct 5, 2012 8:41 PM

    all florios legal analysis indicates the following:

    Roger Goodell overplayed his hand once again. Big time. I’m very surprised at the three judge decision. They said in plain language he has no place to stand.

    And the judge in New Orleans who publicly indicated that she felt the NFL was lying is waiting in the on-deck circle.

    Pretty soon the owners are going to tire of this guy’s miscalculations and are going to the bullpen for a relief pitcher.

    and to the folks hanging the saints, who are not my team, you probably believe most of what folks tell you without question….. and most of you also thought the replacement refs were good… and the call in seattle was justifiable…..just sayin….

  42. 49erstim says: Oct 6, 2012 4:21 PM

    Yay for technicalities!!!!! The Saints are innocent and OJ did NOT do it…ahhh the legal system and the “justice” it dispenses. I think we can all sleep better tonight don’t you? Saints fans, if you need a babysitter down in the bayou for tomorrows game just call Casey Anthony. :-)

  43. vegasvinnie says: Oct 7, 2012 12:39 PM

    spartyfi says:
    Oct 5, 2012 3:14 PM
    Prime example for how Lawyers ruin everything and proof as to why those lacking in common sense tend to gravitate towards the legal profession.

    It’s one big cat chasing its tail here. Common sense dictates that you can be breaking BOTH rules at the same time..meaning, let the committe suspend/penalize for the monetary aspect and let Goodell use that evidence as further proof of a bounty system that was detrimental to the game.

    COMMON SENSE!!! Try it on for size some day.

    Time for all the knuckle scrapers out there to chime in and say they’re all innocent due to this…yup, about as innocent as OJ was when that glove didn’t fit. Innocent in court or work place proceedings is not the same as ACTUAL innocence.

    ===================================

    Only a knuckle scraper thinks that innocence has to be proven. Guilt does.

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