League possibly benefits from do-over in bounty suspensions


Amid reports that Commissioner Roger Goodell will be meeting with the four players whose bounty suspensions were vacated, it’s still not entirely clear what the meetings will entail.

As far as we can tell, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove have agreed to attend what amounts to the pre-discipline meeting that Goodell routinely conducts before imposing discipline.  The players previously declined to participate in a pre-discipline meeting, because the league had refused to share with them any information regarding the evidence against them.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had “offered several times to have [the players] come in as part of the hearing process, the CBA process, and I hope that they’ll do that soon.”

We’re still not 100 percent convinced the meetings will happen (the use of the word “hope” by Goodell suggests he isn’t, either), especially if the league continues to refuse to put its cards on the table.  For now, the players could be agreeing to proceed with an eye toward Judge Helen Berrigan’s eventual reaction.  Behind the reports and the sound bites and the analysis will be a trail of letters exchanged by the lawyers, and both sides surely are trying to craft a record of statements that will make them look more reasonable (and in turn make the other side seem less reasonable) when the time comes for the judge to decide who was — and wasn’t — reasonable and fair.

From the league’s perspective, a desire to meet with the players could be flowing not only from its hope to harvest enough evidence to justify the suspensions but also from a desire to reduce the suspensions.  We (or at least I) have believed for months that Goodell went high with the initial suspensions with the intention of hearing the players out and reducing the penalties, in an effort to create the impression that, despite having full control over the process, he’s capable of changing his mind.

Either way, it’s important to understand the current posture of the case.  The internal appeals panel didn’t overturn the suspensions or find that Goodell exceeded his authority.  Ultimately, it was a technicality that sent the process back to square one.  Moving forward, it could be as simple as re-writing the suspension letters to ensure that Goodell clearly stays in his lane of jurisdiction regarding conduct detrimental to the game.

Looking at the bigger picture, Friday’s decision actually could be characterized as a positive for the NFL.  The league now has a chance to address any and all weaknesses in the process, making the eventual suspensions less likely to be overturned by Judge Berrigan.

That’s why the players should be leery.  Absent a strong indication that the NFL will be producing more evidence or employing a process that gives the players a chance to challenge the evidence against them or otherwise doing things differently this time around, the players gain nothing from talking.

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27 responses to “League possibly benefits from do-over in bounty suspensions

  1. You continue to refer to what the Judge thinks is fair. The decision by the Judge will more likely have to relate to how the NFL follows the procedures outlined in the COLLECTIVELY BARGINED UNION CONTRACT. This is not about fair or not fair, this is about what the players agreed to when they approved the CBA. All Goodell has to do is make sure he specificly states that the punishment is for conduct detrimental to the game and there is not much anyone will be able to do.

  2. Either way, it’s important to understand the current posture of the case. The internal appeals panel didn’t overturn the suspensions or find that Goodell exceeded his authority. Ultimately, it was a technicality that sent the process back to square one.


    The thing is, most rational people following this case knew that the suspensions weren’t OVERTURNED, merely delayed. ESPN and every media outlet was crowing about the suspensions being OVERTURNED. Now, after the media has gotten all the sensationalism out of this that they can, people are quitely acknowledging that “overturned” wasn’t the correct word to use.

    The other thing is, and it’s probably to bad the NFL can’t fine the appeals panel over this, but the timing was as suspicious as if the Judge had given a temporary injunction on Friday afternoon.

    The timing of the ruling guaranteed their 2012 salaries regardless of what the league does now. A ruling which was supposed to be rendered a week before it was.

    I’m sure the panel is aware that if they had issued their “technicality” ruling a week earlier, the players would’ve been suspended for week 1.

  3. As in many cases of life, whenever lawyer is involved, either one or BOTH clients are the losers. Lawyers are not fighting ‘for the players’, they are fighting for their check and the players will finally be the losers as Goodell is going to REFINE his writings and procedures.

  4. Again, I’m sure the players’ attorney Ginsberg will figure out a way to screw this up while trying to look like a big shot.

  5. I tend to agree. I think the NFL realized how badly it botched this whole thing, but I’m afraid they’ll still blow this opportunity as well and not address any of the many unanswered questions that have emerged.

  6. If Berrigan rules in favor of the players it will certainly be appealed on the grounds that she showed a bias in favor of the players with her statements. She admitted she was looking for a way to rule in their favor. Unless the league has not followed the procedures agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement the federal judge does not have the authority to intercede. So far everything has been of a technical nature. I agree that the league benefits from this do over. It may actually make the process fairer but more importantly it gives the league an opportunity to make it appear to be more even handed.

  7. Mike, I don’t think the players care at this point if Goodell shares his “evidence” or not. The players are going to walk into Goodell’s office with 8 testimonies given under oath in federal court that they did not participate in a program with the intent to injure players. They are going to take the opportunity to introduce this info. If Goodell still imposes punishments, it’s going to back to Federal Court. Goodell will have an uphill battle in court proving that 8 testimonies given under oath in favor of the players isn’t substantial without producing something of his own. Even then, whatever he produces would have to weighed against what was said in federal court by the players themselves, teammates and a coach under penalty of law.

  8. Goodell has to be fair this time around, there are too many eyes watching the outcome of this mess. If there is no proof he won’t be able to suspend them again by just saying its what I want to do. The players won’t accept a reduction, they are looking for a clean slate and if there is no proof of them taking or receiving money then they should be cleared. Goodell can’t make up any evidence this time.

  9. Clearly, Goodell is the real loser in this regardless of the conservative ‘company line’ guys who offer up spin on this subject.

    Goodell’s original act was overturned by a court and he never offered up proof.

  10. Yep, while it would make sense the judge in this case can only rule on what the players agreed to in the agreement, the truth is this judge knows that most of the people who will be responsible for re-electing her are Saint’s fans, which is why she made it known early on that she is “looking for a way” to rule on the player’s side. It is all quite ridiculous really.

  11. If the suspensions get reinstated with a new write up clearly stating the suspensions are due to conduct detrimental to the game, I don’t see how a federal district court could rule in favor of the players… well not one with a judge who isn’t worried about her career being ended by Saint’s fans who will eventually get to vote her out. Goodell has the statement of Greg Williams admitting that he did have a bounty program:

    “I am truly sorry” and the program was a “terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.”

    I don’t really know how the NFLPA could get around that. Eventually Williams will be called to testify under oath.

  12. Question: As was pointed out in a previous article, the coaches do not have a Coaches Union, so therefore, cannot fight their suspensions. Are the coaches covered under the CBA as far as having to live under the iron fist of Roger Goodell? If not, what power does he have to suspend them, and why can thy not appeal? I was under the impression coaches and Goodell work hand in hand as representatives of the NFL.

  13. “All Goodell has to do is make sure he specificly states that the punishment is for conduct detrimental to the game and there is not much anyone will be able to do.”
    Yeah, except go right back to Federal Court and let the suspensions get ‘overturned’ again!!!

  14. cliffordc05 says:
    Sep 13, 2012 10:25 AM
    “If Berrigan rules in favor of the players it will certainly be appealed on the grounds that she showed a bias in favor of the players with her statements. She admitted she was looking for a way to rule in their favor”
    Just because she admitted that she was looking to rule in the player’s favor doesn’t mean she was biased, it just means she looked at the facts and decided that GODell’s process wasn’t fair (slicing the salami thin) and the punishments didn’t fit the crime!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. I’m really surprised most media members have decided to label the Saints bounty four the “victors” over Roger Goodell. It seems that they either are too ignorant to look at exactly why this case was overturned (a technicality) or are ignoring why it was overturned in the hopes of a better story. Nevertheless at least on PFT we got the facts not some false narrative.

    All Roger Goodell has to do is prove that what the Saints players and organization participated in was conduct detrimental to the game. That’s it. This was collectively bargained, the players had their chance in 2011 and blew it. This is Roger Goodell’s call and seeing as the coach the former defensive coordinator the owner and the general manager have all acknowledged more or less that the Saints’ bounty program did indeed take place it shouldn’t be that hard to get these suspensions to be upheld this time.

    I guess Vilma, Hargrove, Fujita, and Smith should enjoy this temporary technicality as long as they can because they will probably be suspended again soon. And this time there will be no way out for the players.

  16. Now what is it again the players did wrong? This entire Bounty thing is one big fiasco that if Goodell (NFL)could do it all over again would not……seriously. He knows he screwed but his ego will never ever allow him to admit it.

  17. I bet if he had to do it all over again, he would of suspended Greg Williams for a Year. Sean Payton 2 Games and everyone else a stern warning/probation. He could of got the point across that Pay for performance is not allowed. He could of said he is concerned for the safety of the players. Everyone would of got the message, and his reputation would be in tact. Now, he looks like a like a dictator, a liar and he looks like the one with no integrity.

  18. @Genius, For a genius your can’t see the trees and your standing in the forest. The players way out is when Roger Goodell takes the stand in Jon Vilma’s defamation suit. He will have to produce the 90,000 pages of evidence. 89,979 of those pages saying there was no bounty against the 21 pages of nonsense that have been twisted. He has to put his dog the bounty hunter photo and his hand written napkin from a mystery witness against the sworn testimony of every guy in the room. At this point his best option is to cut his losses. Try to save face and look as though the all came to a resolution.

  19. Goodell doesnt have to “create the impression” that he is willing to cooperate with the appeals prcoess. Time and time again, he has reduced suspensions of players. Secondly, goodell will impose the penalties as conduct detrimental to the game, and there isnt much anyone will be able to do. Sb44champs can run his mouth all he wants about evidence and federal court, but it wont get there. If judge berrigan couldve ruled for the players, she would have. But she had no basis to do it, and she wont again.

  20. This bounty thing is only a fiasco on the players side.

    1. Goodell said they were part of a bounty program. The players said that they weren’t.

    2. The players said that they were part of a pay for play program. Judge Berrigan then said pay for play and bounty systems can be considered the same thing.

    3. Goodell now has from the Judge that the players picked that they were part of a bounty system based on what they have said. His point is made. He doesn’t have to prove anything with regard to intent to injure. He also doesn’t have to say anything about money because just being part of the system is against the rules.

    4. The players and league agreed to a process for discipline. Goodell has stayed to that process, the players haven’t. By not attending their hearing where evidence is brought out, he is no longer really obligated to give them any evidence because they haven’t been following the process. However in this case, the evidence that is necessary is out there. They said they were part of pay and the judge said that can be considered bounties.

    With regards to conduct detrimental, anything that is against the rules can realistically be considered that. So, that isn’t a hard sell.

    With regards to the judge, since the process agreed upon is being followed she doesn’t have grounds to overturn anything.

    Guess what guys, players lost, their last best hope is to work with the League.

  21. I think that’s the opposite of what the Court was saying. It is the NFL, not just the players, which has made the distinction between pay for performance and bounties. It has to do that, b/c there is too much testimony about the dozens of teams which have had pay for performance pools. The Judge’s statement that they may be the same is contrary not just to the players, but to the NFL as well. So it sets up that if Goodell imposes draconian punishments for pay for performance, he has singled out 4 players for disparate treatment. Whatever the CBA says, I doubt it allows Goodell to impose arbitrary sanctions that are unique to these 4 people. That will give the Court an opening for a ruling under federal labor law.

  22. Well, the NFL has really ruined it’s reputation with this bounty gate crap…and the bogus salary cap penalties imposed on the Cowboys and Redskins, because if that isn’t collusion on the owners part then the pope isn’t Catholic…

  23. The thing that i don’t understand is why the league doesn’t show all of the evidence? It’s hard for me to believe that the 4 players would fight this hard if they truly were lying. I don’t know to what extent the players are guilty or innocent. I do believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But, until we see all the evidence, doesn’t that make us question the credibility of what was introduced? If they show us the evidence and they are guilty, let the punishments stand. But, what if they really ARE innocent?

  24. I wish one reporter would bring up the testimony of Pearson Preliou. In Vilma’s case, Preliou testified that he was with Greg Williams in Buffalo,Washington,Tenn and New Orleans. The Same pay for performance system was in place at every stop. The Saints did not invent this system, the only “bounty” the Saints had is the same “bounty” every team has. Nobody will ever talk about out it but wouldn’t the Panthers be elated if Drew got knocked out in the 1st quarter. Wouldn’t the Bears like Rogers knocked out tonight? Wouldn’t the Cardinals have a much better chance if Brady is knocked out? You see there is a bounty every game but keep that a secret because we need everyone to believe we are trying to protect our players.

  25. Raidafan, while you might be right, those other teams didn’t get caught. Though from some reactions of former players I am not sure you are. They all seemed to think GW on tape went beyond what they were comfortable with. The thing I don’t get is if you have former associates of GW and GW himself all testifying that they did indeed have a bounty program, why the NFL would need any other evidence than that.

  26. raidafan7 says:

    “@Genius, For a genius your can’t see the trees and your standing in the forest. The players way out is when Roger Goodell takes the stand in Jon Vilma’s defamation suit. ”

    Goodell will never have to take the stand.

    Vilma’s defamation suit will never make it to trial – as the case will be dismissed – mainly because there was no defamation.

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