As the details of the bounty appeal hearing to be conducted by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue come into focus, two things are becoming more and more clear: (1) the NFL must produce former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for testimony; and (2) the testimony will happen on a day when Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma won’t be there to sit in the room and listen to them speak.
“I’m kind of disappointed in that these are the guys that essentially made the case against me,” Vilma said Friday, via Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I would love to be there to see them, hear what they had to say. . . . For whatever reason, [Tagliabue] felt like I didn’t need to be there.”
Cerullo and Williams will testify on November 29 or 30. The Saints play the Falcons in Atlanta on Thursday, November 29.
“Why would you make it so difficult on us to get there? . . . Obviously, the intent was not for us to be there when you schedule it the way you scheduled it,” Vilma said.
The other current Saints player whose re-issued suspension will be reviewed by Tagliabue has no issue with missing the testimony; instead, defensive end Will Smith is simply happy Cerullo and Williams will be required to answer questions about the sworn statements they previously supplied.
“It’s going to be important that Gregg and those guys get a chance to get cross-examined as we were cross-examined,” Smith said, per Holder. “It’s good to have those guys finally stepping forward and actually talking instead of hiding. . . . The most important thing is that Gregg Williams and those other guys are going to have to testify and be cross-examined. I think that’s the most important thing and see if their stories stay the same.”
On that point, Vilma agrees. “There’s always that possibility [for the penalties to be upheld], but we feel like once Gregg and Cerullo get up on the stand and testify that we feel like there’s no plausible way we could still be suspended after that,” Vilma said.
Though it’s premature to presume victory based simply on the fact that Cerullo and Williams will testify, exposing them to aggressive cross-examination from lawyers like Jeffrey Kessler and Peter Ginsberg could highlight flaws in their stories, conflicts in their statements, and motivations and biases that could make their versions suspect. Cerullo’s affidavit alone gives rise to plenty to questions, and the timing of Williams’ statement (it was signed in September, months after the investigation occurred and days after the initial suspensions were vacated) is curious, to say the least.
The biggest discrepancy between the two documents comes from Cerullo’s claim that the $10,000 originally offered by Vilma to any teammate who knocked Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 NFC divisional playoff game was given to Williams for safekeeping. Williams denies receiving any money. Moreover, Williams says nothing of a $10,000 offer by Vilma for the Cardinals game; Williams mentions only the next playoff game, against the Vikings and quarterback Brett Favre.
The two witnesses had better get their ducks in a row by the end of the coming week, or Tagliabue could decide that the situation smells sufficiently fishy to not trust anything Cerullo and/or Williams have to say on the subject of whether a specific bounty was placed on Warner or Favre, or both.