The last time Stephen Burbank was asked to resolve a dispute under the new CBA, a decision came in 11 days. This time, he moved even faster.
Five days after a hearing was held on the question of whether the discipline imposed on four players connected to the Saints alleged bounty system falls within Burbank’s sole jurisdiction under the labor deal, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that Burbank has rejected the players’ argument.
The four players who have been suspended (Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove) and the NFLPA argued that, to the extent the penalties arise from alleged salary-cap violations, the CBA gives full and exclusive authority to Burbank for determining whether or not the rules regarding paying players were broken.
And so Burbank will not be interfering with the discipline process, which the NFL believes should continue with appeal hearings before Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Under the CBA, the decision is subject to appeal, not to any outside court but to an internal appeals panel. It’s unclear at this point whether an appeal will be pursued, but it would not be a surprise if it happens.
Still pending is a separate grievance filed before arbitrator Shyam Das, who has been asked to decide whether the new CBA prevents Goodell from imposing any discipline on players for conduct occurring before it was signed, and also whether the appeals should be handled by Ted Cottrell or Art Shell, who have been jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA to review discipline imposed by Goodell for on-field misconduct.
As to Burbank, who ruled last month that the Cowboys and Redskins had no basis under the labor deal to challenge a combined $46 million in salary-cap penalties, his name will once again fade into the woodwork, until the next time the league or the union has a matter that needs to be addressed by the man who holds the always-enviable title of “Special Master.”
UPDATE 10:12 a.m. ET: Technically, Burbank has retained jurisdiction over Hargrove’s argument, explaining that the letter from Goodell explaining Hargrove’s suspension doesn’t specify the nature of the rules he violated. In so doing, Burbank also gives the NFL a fairly clear road map for avoiding problems, and the league already has seized on that language by explaining in a press release that Hargrove was suspended for lying to investigators and obstructing the NFL’s investigation.