Earlier tonight, we pointed out that the decision of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to allow former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo to testify at the bounty appeal hearing at a time when Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith aren’t available to attend and observe and assist their counsel could give Vilma and Smith potent arguments to raise in court when attacking any decision from Tagliabue to suspend them.
Vilma may have an even stronger argument.
Further review of his October 9, 2012 suspension letter suggests that the league may have painted itself into a corner. In the letter, Commissioner Roger Goodell says that Vilma will be suspended “for the remainder of the 2012 season.”
Vilma could (and perhaps should) argue in response that his suspension must be concluded if at all by the end of the 2012 season, and that he’s free to return in 2013.
That said, Goodell conditions the suspension on the resolution of the appeal in a “timely manner.” From Vilma’s perspective, however, the process has been timely. By all appearances, the delays have come from Goodell’s decision to hand the baton to Tagliabue, and other matters beyond Vilma’s control.
Indeed, if Taliabue doesn’t issue a ruling until, for example, three weeks remain in the 2012 season, will Vilma be suspended only three weeks at the most? Or will Tagliabue then ask Goodell to make yet another decision on the duration of the suspension?
If Vilma ultimately ends up with only a brief suspension due to the terms of his second suspension letter, it will be the second time that imprecise letter writing has worked to the benefit of the suspended players. For now, it’s unclear how this will play out. First, Vilma has to make the argument; if he does, things could get even more interesting.
In the end, Vilma’s original one-year suspension could become a fraction of that.