As Commissioner Roger Goodell ponders his next move in the bounty cases, his next move could set the stage for even more legal maneuvering.
The full written ruling from the internal appeals panel that vacated the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove prevents the Commissioner from imposing any penalties that relate in any way to the payment or receipt of money as part of the pay-for-performance/bounty program.
So how does the league impose discipline for conduct detrimental to the game under its bounty rule, when the bounty rule is premised on the payment and/or receipt of money?
The language of the bounty rule suggests that the key word will be “offer.”
“No bonus or award may directly or indirectly be offered, promised, announced, or paid to a player for his or his team’s performance against a particular team or opposing player or a particular group thereof,” the rule states. “No bonuses or awards may be offered or paid for on field misconduct (for example, personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players).”
The players undoubtedly will say that it’s a distinction without a difference, and that any involvement of money — offered or paid — brings the conduct within the scope of the rules regarding salary cap violations, over which Goodell has no authority. Indeed, the appeals panel draws the line at the point “between agreeing to injure other players and the agreement to participate in an undisclosed compensation arrangement.” That arguably includes offers.
If it does, it arguably seals off the Commissioner’s authority to do anything at all.