NEW YORK (AP) - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says Saints coach Sean Payton and other New Orleans officials suspended for being involved in the team's bounty system could have their appeals heard in the next few days.
``I expect we'll do it before the end of the week,'' Goodell said Tuesday at the unveiling of the league's new Nike-designed uniforms at a film studio in Brooklyn.
Payton, New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt were suspended for their roles in the team's bounty program, which offered improper cash bonuses for big hits that either knocked opponents out of games or left them needing help off of the field.
Payton was suspended for the upcoming season. Loomis received an eight-game suspension, and Vitt was suspended for six games. The Saints organization was fined $500,000 and had second-round draft picks this year and next taken away by the league as part of the punishment.
Donald Yee, Payton's agent, released a statement later Tuesday that did not rule out a meeting with the commissioner later in the week but said, ``We've just heard from the league office today for the first time, and at the moment, we are trying to schedule a mutually convenient time for the proceedings to occur, particularly given the upcoming Good Friday, Passover and Easter holidays.''
Payton's suspension originally was to have started on Sunday, but it's been on hold pending his appeal.
After Saints coaches and executives, next to be determined is whether players who were involved in the bounty program will also be disciplined.
Goodell said the NFL met with the players' association representatives on Monday to discuss the league's investigation of the Saints.
``We shared more information with them so they're up to speed,'' he said.
Goodell added that he expected to speak with NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith again as soon as Wednesday.
``I hope to be able to make some decisions soon,'' Goodell said.
``I believe in getting as much information as possible,'' he said. ``We respect the players. This is important because it's a player safety matter. We think that we need to get some input from them.''
According to the league, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any New Orleans player who sidelined Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre during the 2010 NFC championship game. No other players involved have been publicly identified by the NFL.
Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who was modeling his team's new uniform at the NFL's fashion show, called possible player suspensions by the league ``ridiculous.''
``We're players. We're going out there to make plays. That's what the game is about,'' he said. ``You play defense, your job is to tackle.
``They can say they put a bounty out on me when I got knocked out against San Francisco in the playoffs. You can say they put a bounty out on me. Who knows? But they're just targeting us right now,'' he said. ``But I'm not faulting the guy that hit me. It's the nature of the game. That happens.''
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he couldn't speak directly to the Saints situation, but despite all the hits he's taken, he'd be surprised if an opponent was trying to injure him.
``We all respect each other so much,'' he said. ``We all know how hard it is. It really surprised me that guys would want to try to intentionally hurt somebody. This is a fraternity. There's so few of us that do it. The average life expectancy is three years in the NFL or something like that.
``It would shock me if people were trying to intentionally hurt people.''
Thomas said he has not spoken with Vilma or any of his other teammates on defense.
``They probably got a lot on their plate as it is. It's not my business to jump in,'' he said.
Payton has spoken to his old boss, former Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells, about possibly taking over the Saints while he is suspended.
Goodell has said he would be fine with Parcells stepping in. Thomas liked the idea, too.
``I mean it would be great. That's somebody coach Payton always talked about in meetings, admired him. He seemed like a great coach. I never played underneath him, but I learned a lot about him. I heard a lot about him. He seems like a great guy,'' Thomas said.
``I know we would love to have him if it happens, but we would prefer Payton to be there with his team, to lead us on the way he's been doing.''
The first organized team activity for the Saints is April 16. Thomas is hoping no matter what happens, the bounty scandal will be settled by then.
``Hopefully, this doesn't keep lingering on,'' he said. ``You don't want this to linger on while we're preparing for a season. You want to make sure everything is focused on one thing: Trying to get to that Super Bowl.''
The Super Bowl, by the way, will be played on the Saints' home field at the Superdome.