2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Saints' suspensions tossed out in bounty case

By BRETT MARTEL - AP Sports Writer
    2012-12-11 18:17

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Finding fault with nearly everyone tied to the New Orleans Saints' bounty case, from the coaches to Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue tossed out the suspensions of four players Tuesday and condemned the team for obstructing the investigation.

In a surprising rejection of his successor's overreaching punishments, Tagliabue wrote that he would ``now vacate all discipline to be imposed upon'' two current Saints, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, and two players no longer with the club, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

Tagliabue essentially absolved Fujita, but did agree with Goodell's finding that the other three players ``engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.''

It was a ruling that allowed both sides to claim victory more than nine months after the league first made ``Saints bounties'' a household phrase: The NFL pointed to the determination that Goodell's facts were right; the NFL Players Association issued a statement noting that Tagliabue said ``previously issued discipline was inappropriate.''

Vilma, suspended by Goodell for the entire current season, and Smith, suspended four games, have been playing for the Saints while their appeals were pending. Fujita is on injured reserve; Hargrove is not with a team.

Tagliabue, appointed by Goodell to oversee a second round of player appeals, criticized the Saints as an organization that fostered bad behavior and tried to impede the investigation into what the NFL said was a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games from 2009 to 2011, with thousands of dollars in payouts.

A ``culture'' that promoted tough talk and cash incentives for hits to injure opponents - one key example was Vilma's offer of $10,000 to any teammate who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC championship game at the end of the 2009 season - existed in New Orleans, according to Tagliabue, who also wrote that ``Saints' coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL's investigation.''

The former commissioner did not entirely exonerate the players, however.

He said Vilma and Smith participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays - including hard tackles - while Hargrove, following coaches' orders, helped to cover up the program when interviewed by NFL investigators in 2010.

``My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines,'' the ruling said. ``However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization.''

Tagliabue said he decided, in this particular case, that it was in the best interest of all parties involved to eliminate player punishment because of the enduring acrimony it has caused between the league and the NFL Players Association. He added that he hoped doing so would allow the NFL and union to move forward collaboratively to the more important matters of enhancing player safety.

``To be clear: this case should not be considered a precedent for whether similar behavior in the future merits player suspensions or fines,'' his ruling said.

Tagliabue oversaw the second round of player appeals to the league in connection with the cash-for-hits program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011. The players initially opposed his appointment.

Goodell had given Vilma a full-season suspension, while he gave Smith, Fujita and Hargrove shorter suspensions.

Tagliabue cleared Fujita of conduct detrimental to the league.

The former commissioner found Goodell's actions historically disproportionate to past punishment to players for similar behavior, which had generally been reserved to fines, not suspensions. He also stated that it was very difficult to determine whether the pledges players made were genuine, or simply a motivational ploy, particularly because Saints defenders never demonstrated a pattern of dirty play on the field.

``The relationship of the discipline for the off-field `talk' and actual on-field conduct must be carefully calibrated and reasonably apportioned. This is a standard grounded in common sense and fairness,'' Tagliabue wrote in his 22-page opinion. ``If one were to punish certain off-field talk in locker rooms, meeting rooms, hotel rooms or elsewhere without applying a rigorous standard that separated real threats or `bounties' from rhetoric and exaggeration, it would open a field of inquiry that would lead nowhere.''

Saints quarterback Drew Brees commented on Twitter: ``Congratulations to our players for having the suspensions vacated. Unfortunately, there are some things that can never be taken back.''

The Saints opened the season 0-4 and are now 5-8 and virtually out of the playoffs after appearing the postseason the three previous seasons, including the franchise's only Super Bowl title to conclude the 2009 season.

Shortly before the regular season, the initial suspensions were thrown out by an appeals panel created by the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. Goodell then reissued them, with some changes, and now those have been dismissed.

Now, with the player suspensions overturned, the end could be near for a nearly 10-month dispute over how the NFL handled an investigation that covered three seasons and gathered about 50,000 pages of documents.

``We respect Mr. Tagliabue's decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters,'' the league said in a statement.

``The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the (NFL's collective bargaining agreement) to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football.''

The players have challenged the NFL's handling of the entire process in federal court, but U.S District Judge Ginger Berrigan had been waiting for the latest round of appeals to play out before deciding whether to get involved. The judge issued an order Tuesday giving the NFLPA and Vilma until Wednesday to notify the court if they found Tagliabue's ruling acceptable.

Vilma also has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell, which also is being handled by Berrigan. Vilma's lawyers, Peter Ginsberg and Duke Williams, said by email to The Associated Press that they would ``pursue the defamation action vigorously.''

NFL investigators found that Vilma and Smith were ringleaders of a cash-for-hits program that rewarded injurious tackles labeled as ``cart-offs'' and ``knockouts.'' Witnesses including Williams also said Vilma made a $10,000 pledge for anyone who knocked then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC title game. However, Tagliabue found it was not clear if the pledge was genuine or simply a motivational prop.

``There is more than enough evidence to support Commissioner Goodell's findings that Mr. Vilma offered such a bounty'' on Favre, Tagliabue wrote. ``I cannot, however, uphold a multi-game suspension where there is no evidence that a player's speech prior to a game was actually a factor causing misconduct on the playing field and that such misconduct was severe enough in itself to warrant a player suspension or a very substantial fine.''

The NFL also concluded that Hargrove lied to NFL investigators to help cover up the program. The players have from the beginning denied they ever took the field intending to injure opponents, while Hargrove has said he never lied about a bounty program, because there wasn't one.

Goodell suspended Williams indefinitely, while banning Saints head coach Sean Payton for a full season.

Tagliabue's ruling comes after a new round of hearings that for the first time allowed Vilma's attorneys and the NFLPA, which represents the other three players, to cross-examine key NFL witnesses. Those witnesses included Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo, who was fired after the 2009 season and whose email to the league, accusing the Saints of being ``a dirty organization,'' jump-started the probe.

``We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result,'' the players' union said in a statement. ``We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program.

``Vacating all discipline affirms the players' unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged `intent-to-injure' were utterly and completely false.''

Smith said he was pleased that Tagliabue vacated his suspension.

``I continue to maintain that I did not participate in a pay-to-injure program or facilitate any such program,'' he added. ``I appreciate that Mr. Tagliabue did not rush to judgment, taking into consideration all facts presented to him, before ruling - something that was clearly not done by Commissioner Goodell in previous hearings.''

A statement released by Vilma's lawyers on his behalf said the linebacker is ``relieved and gratified that Jonathan no longer needs to worry about facing an unjustified suspension.

``On the other hand, Commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of Commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan. Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day.''

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Rolando McClainApr 1 08:33a

Free-agent LB Rolando McClain re-signed with the Dallas Cowboys on a one-year deal worth $3 million. He can also earn $1 million in playing time incentives.

Greg JenningsMar 31 10:23p

Free-agent WR Greg Jennings (Vikings) visited the Carolina Panthers Tuesday, March 31, and he tweeted he has a deal done. However, a source is reporting that the deal is not with the Panthers.

Eric EbronMar 31 09:03p

The Detroit Lions are expecting TE Eric Ebron to make a big jump from his rookie season to year number two. 'Ebron's the guy we're counting on to be [ More ]

Demaryius ThomasMar 31 07:13p

Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas (ankle, Achilles') took 'about a month' to recover from an ankle/Achilles' injury that he suffered last December. Thomas said his ankle will be fine [ More ]

Jacquizz RodgersMar 31 06:03p

Free-agent RB Jacquizz Rodgers (Falcons) signed an undisclosed deal with the Chicago Bears Tuesday, March 31.

Vincent BrownMar 31 04:13p

Free-agent WR Vincent Brown (Raiders) signed an undisclosed deal with the Indianapolis Colts Tuesday, March 31.

Antonio SmithMar 31 04:13p

Oakland Raiders DE Antonio Smith will be released, according to a source informed on the move. The Raiders will save $3.2 million with the move.

Jason TrusnikMar 31 04:13p

Free-agent LB Jason Trusnik (Dolphins) signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers Tuesday, March 31. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Chandler HarnishMar 31 03:43p

Free-agent QB Chandler Harnish (Vikings) signed an undisclosed deal with the Arizona Cardinals Tuesday, March 31.

Matt SchaubMar 31 02:22p

Free-agent QB Matt Schaub (Raiders) signed with the Baltimore Ravens Tuesday, March 31. Terms were not disclosed.

Theo RiddickMar 31 01:33p

Detroit Lions RB Theo Riddick will have his role expanded in 2015. The team may opt to draft a running back in the NFL Draft, so how much his [ More ]

Miles AustinMar 30 05:32p

Free-agent WR Miles Austin (Browns) signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles Monday, March 30. The deal is worth $2.3 million with $700,000 available in incentives, according to a source.

DeMeco RyansMar 30 05:02p

Philadelphia Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans (Achilles') said he will be ready for training camp in July after coming back from his second torn Achilles' tendon since 2010. He will [ More ]

Michael HillMar 30 05:02p

Free-agent RB Michael Hill (Colts) signed an undisclosed deal with the Washington Redskins Monday, March 30.

Demaryius ThomasMar 30 02:12p

Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas will not be present at the Broncos' offseason program or attend workouts with QB Peyton Manning at Duke University. Thomas is currently in Los Angeles for a charity event.

Jordan TodmanMar 30 01:42p

Free-agent RB Jordan Todman (Jaguars) signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers Monday, March 30. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Miles AustinMar 30 11:42a

Free-agent WR Miles Austin (Browns) will likely sign with the Philadelphia Eagles this week if all goes well with his physical, according to a source.

R. Griffin IIIMar 29 07:42p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III will be the first-team quarterback during offseason workouts, according to head Jay Gruden, but Gruden also said he expects QB Kirk Cousins and [ More ]

Stevan RidleyMar 29 10:12a

Free-agent RB Stevan Ridley (knee) is scheduled to meet with a few teams this week. Ridley is expected to receive full medical clearance in around six weeks.

Andre EllingtonMar 27 07:52p

Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington, who averaged 20.6 touches per game in 2014 before being injured, won't have his role reduced in 2015, according to head coach Bruce Arians. [ More ]

C.J. AndersonMar 27 07:32p

Denver Broncos RB C.J. Anderson, who finished 2014 with 648 rushing yards in the last six games, will enter the 2015 season at the top of the running back [ More ]

Jonathan MartinMar 27 04:32p

San Francisco 49ers OT Jonathan Martin was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers Friday, March 27.

Alan BallMar 27 03:02p

Free-agent CB Alan Ball (Jaguars) signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears Friday, March 27. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Jarrett BoykinMar 27 02:12p

Free-agent WR Jarrett Boykin (Packers) signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers Friday, March 27. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Nick FolesMar 27 01:22p

St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said it's the team's intention to draft a quarterback in this year's draft, despite trading for QB Nick Foles in the offseason. [ More ]

Dont'a HightowerMar 26 08:02p

New England Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder) will miss six to seven months after undergoing surgery on a torn right labrum. Hightower's availability for the beginning of the regular [ More ]

Brian QuickMar 26 06:52p

St. Louis Rams WR Brian Quick (shoulder) is making progress in recovering from a torn rotator cuff and separated shoulder he suffered last October. Head coach Jeff Fisher has [ More ]

Jay CutlerMar 26 06:32p

Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler will head into the offseason as the team's No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, but head coach John Fox said there will be [ More ]

Danny LansanahMar 26 05:42p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Danny Lansanah signed his one-year tender Thursday, March 26.

Jonathan MartinMar 26 04:52p

San Francisco 49ers OT Jonathan Martin was waived Thursday, March 26.

Pat SimsMar 26 04:22p

Free-agent DT Pat Sims (Raiders) signed an undisclosed deal with the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday, March 26.

Victor CruzMar 26 01:32p

New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) 'looks really good and light,' according to head coach Tom Coughlin. Cruz started running last week six months after he tore the [ More ]

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group