View Full Version : Jonathan Vilma sues Roger Goodell

Hawaii 5-0
05-17-2012, 03:53 PM
Jonathan Vilma sues Roger Goodell

Updated: May 17, 2012
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The suit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans claims Goodell has made false statements about Vilma while discussing the NFL's bounty investigation of the New Orleans Saints.

Goodell has said Vilma was a leader of the team's bounty program that put up thousands of dollars for big hits on opposing teams' star players from 2009-11, including on then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre during the playoffs in 2010.

"Commissioner Goodell opted to make very public and unfortunately erroneous allegations against Jonathan," said Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg. "By making these false and public statements, he has significantly harmed Jonathan's reputation and ability to make a living.

"By suing commissioner Goodell in court, Jonathan opted to use a fair playing field where he has procedural rights and protections to remedy the harm Commissioner Goodell has done to him," Ginsberg added.


Goodell has suspended Vilma for the entire season. Vilma and three other players who received shorter suspensions -- defensive end Will Smith, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and linebacker Scott Fujita -- all have appealed their punishments. Hargrove now plays for Green Bay while Fujita is with Cleveland.

"We have not yet reviewed the filing," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "However, our commitment to player safety and the integrity of the game is our main consideration. We recognize that not everyone will agree with decisions that need to be made."

Vilma's lawsuit, which is expected to be heard by Judge Ginger Berrigan, asks for unspecified monetary damages.

The players' association has said the league has refused to turn over what the union would view as hard evidence that Vilma or the other sanctioned players tried to intentionally injure targeted opponents or sponsored such behavior on the field.

Ginsberg has echoed those complaints and said the federal lawsuit could force the NFL's hand.

"It is certainly the case that in court, Jonathan will have a right to see whatever it is that commissioner Goodell has been hiding from us and what commissioner Goodell contends gave him a basis to make these false allegations," Ginsberg said. "We will have a fair and neutral judge to preside over the dispute rather than contending with the executioner also being the person making the final decision."


Atlanta Dan
05-17-2012, 04:11 PM
Here is a link to the complaint

Media will forever mention his name in the context of the Bounty investigation and fans will forever remember Vilma with ill repute rather than remember his substantial accomplishments on and off the field....

Goodell’s Statements permanently damage Vilma’s personal reputation in Louisiana and around the world. Vilma will soon have to leave behind the world of professional football and will likely face difficulties in obtaining other employment and entering into new ventures as a result of Goodell’s false and defamatory Statements.


I think James Harrison may no longer be Goodell's least favorite linebacker:chuckle:

Hawaii 5-0
05-17-2012, 06:02 PM
League responds to Vilma suit, reiterates commitment to safety and integrity

Posted by Mike Florio on May 17, 2012


The NFL has responded to the lawsuit filed Thursday by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma against Commissioner Roger Goodell for defamation.

“We have not yet reviewed the filing,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT via email. “However, our commitment to player safety and the integrity of the game is our main consideration. We recognize that not everyone will agree with decisions that need to be made.”

Goodell will have 30 days to formally respond to the complaint, once it is officially served. It will be far more detailed than the paragraph appearing above, and it likely will consist of an effort to dismiss the case, possibly under the argument that the labor agreement supersedes the litigation process, forcing Vilma to file a grievance under the CBA.


05-17-2012, 07:41 PM
This is what happens when a greedy lawyer advises an idiot. Subsequently the idiot decides to dig his grave deeper.

So what is he arguing? The bounty progam never existed? Yet, The owner, gm, head coach, and coordinator all stated they were sorry and regretted their actions? If it didn't exist, what are they sorry for? If Vilma wasn't involved, might one of those who stated they were sorry have said "oh no vilma wasnt involved? Perhaps we missed that.

So Vilma a side being embaraased and now feels he can't earn an income to pay for his posse to travel with him, is pissed. So he will lie, and say, oh know it wasn't me.

05-17-2012, 08:26 PM
This is what happens when a greedy lawyer advises an idiot. Subsequently the idiot decides to dig his grave deeper.

So what is he arguing? The bounty progam never existed? Yet, The owner, gm, head coach, and coordinator all stated they were sorry and regretted their actions? If it didn't exist, what are they sorry for? If Vilma wasn't involved, might one of those who stated they were sorry have said "oh no vilma wasnt involved? Perhaps we missed that.

So Vilma a side being embaraased and now feels he can't earn an income to pay for his posse to travel with him, is pissed. So he will lie, and say, oh know it wasn't me.

I wouldn't jump to any conclusions. I'd like to see how this plays out.

Atlanta Dan
05-17-2012, 08:29 PM
So what is he arguing? .

As stated in the Complaint

Goodell, in the March 2 Club Report, also alleged that “prior to a Saints playoff game in January, 2010, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 in cash to any player who knocked [opposing quarterback Brett] Favre out of the game.” (“Favre Allegation.”)...

Upon information and belief, Goodell told others that Vilma placed $10,000 in cash on a table during a team meeting in making the alleged offer concerning Favre....

Goodell, in his March 21 Press Release, also repeated the allegation that “several players pledged funds toward bounties on specific opposing players” and that “defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offer[ed] $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in 2010.”...

Vilma never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, as an incentive to any player to knock Warner, Favre, or any other player, out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game, 2010 NFC Championship Game, or any other game.

Vilma never placed $10,000, or any amount of money, on any table or anywhere else as part of a Bounty Program or any other program in violation of NFL rules.


Vilma is challenging the allegations regarding the $10,000 bounty on Favre, which was a centerpiece of the grounds for bounty disciplinary actions

Vilma may be lying but the complaint makes it pretty clear what he is saying

Of course the league apparently will use its all purpose defense to any challenge to The Shield and the power of Goodell by claiming the collective bargainihg agreement preempts any right to bring a libel action. It also could disclose its sources regarding the $10,000 offer to take out Favre but that might cause soime other problems

The NFL will seek to dismiss the claim as frivolous or, alternatively, pre-empted by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA and the Uniform Player Contract. The league has expansively interpreted the collectively-bargained Personal Conduct Policy to include any conduct detrimental to the league's image. The policy commands that Goodell has final say on player discipline and that there is no right of appeal or review of his decisions. From that perspective, Vilma's anger should be with his union, which assented to Goodell having such sweeping authority. In response, Vilma could argue neither collectively-bargained nor language contained in the Uniform Player Contract contemplates defamation lawsuits between players and the commissioner, and thus any pre-emptive language would not apply to his specific dispute....

The league's best argument may be the simplest: truth is an absolute defense to defamation. The problem for the league in making such an argument is that, through the discovery process, it would likely have to disclose information it does not want to reveal. For instance, the league may have to divulge it's sources of information, including the identifies of players and coaches who were informants. The backlash of such disclosures could be considerable.


Pete Rozelle was riding high until litigation beat him down in the 80s. The concussion lawsuits and actions such as that brought by Vilma to challenge his power may do the same to Goodell

Fire Arians
05-17-2012, 10:16 PM
i like vilma now, i hope he wins

05-18-2012, 07:42 AM
They are full of it. They read it. And re-read it. And read again.

League responds to Vilma suit, reiterates commitment to safety and integrity

Posted by Mike Florio on May 17, 2012


The NFL has responded to the lawsuit filed Thursday by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma against Commissioner Roger Goodell for defamation.

“We have not yet reviewed the filing,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT via email. “However, our commitment to player safety and the integrity of the game is our main consideration. We recognize that not everyone will agree with decisions that need to be made.”

Goodell will have 30 days to formally respond to the complaint, once it is officially served. It will be far more detailed than the paragraph appearing above, and it likely will consist of an effort to dismiss the case, possibly under the argument that the labor agreement supersedes the litigation process, forcing Vilma to file a grievance under the CBA.


05-18-2012, 08:23 AM
Most legal experts i've heard comment on this say they don't likely see the lawsuit going very far, but what Vilma and his attorney are doing is making sure Vilma's voice gets heard and this makes a media splash.

Until the NFL releases transcripts or exact documentation of what they have, we can all speculate 'til the cows come home, but in reality, they surely have some hard evidence in hand, as they wouldn't dish out a 1-yr suspension without having anything to back it up, as they're fully aware of legal ramifications if they didn't.
If Vilma is wrong, the NFL could further embarrass him with the "proof", which could backfire on Vilma.

On the other side, the NFL is completely setting themselves up for this kind of thing with a reigning dictator and Czar, making godly decisions as though he's God himself. I figured after all the James Harrison stuff, that someone would eventually step up, take it to the next level, and not put up with it anymore. The firing back of Vilma could force the NFL to modify the ways it dishes out discipline and such.
One thing's for sure : There will without question be changes in all of these processes when its all said and done. What they will be will be interesting to see.

Hawaii 5-0
05-21-2012, 12:21 AM

Vilma right to take on dictator Roger

UPDATED MAY 18, 2012

Hell, yes, Jonathan Vilma should sue Roger Goodell.

Someone has to stand against the NFL's well-intentioned, but wildly out-of-control, dictator. The elite NFL media, seduced by access and/or high-paying jobs on the television networks partnered with the national pastime, won't dare chop down Goodell to appropriate size, power and influence. And the NFL Players Association seemingly lacks the courage and resolve to regularly tussle with a commissioner corrupted by absolute power.

So, yeah, in an effort to get justice, Jonathan Vilma has no choice but to drag Goodell into a courtroom. On paper, Vilma is suing for defamation. In reality, Vilma is suing to overturn a grossly excessive yearlong suspension for his limited and largely unproven role in the Saints bounty scandal.

Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt — the New Orleans power structure that orchestrated, cultivated and embraced the bounty culture — confessed to and apologized for their email-documented and/or player-corroborated roles in the forbidden activity. Vilma has offered no confession or apology, and Goodell has yet to counter with hard and public evidence. Even if he has it, the yearlong suspension of Vilma is unfair, devoid of common sense and sets a dangerous precedent.

Vilma — a 30-year-old player — is being punished far more harshly than Goodell's peers: Payton, Loomis and Vitt. A player has a short earning window. Vilma has played eight seasons. Knee injuries limited him last year. His career is winding down. He took a significant pay cut this offseason. The Saints signed several free-agent linebackers. Vilma's suspension could be career-ending.

Payton, who also received a year-long suspension, can be an NFL head coach for the next 15 years. Vitt (six-game suspension) can be a high-paid assistant for the next 15 years. Loomis (four-game suspension) can hold a high-paying front-office job for the next 15 years. Goodell's peers — with the exception of Williams (suspended indefinitely) — can easily recoup their losses.

The architects and the primary benefactors of the bounty scheme, the men who permanently enhanced their coaching resumes with a Super Bowl title, received lighter punishments than the defensive captain who has been trained since childhood to follow the lead of his coaches.

Hell, yes, Jonathan Vilma should sue. Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove — the other suspended players — should join Vilma's lawsuit.

Football is militaristic. Adherence to chain of command is strictly enforced. Groupthink and submission to the will and values of the coaching staff are rewarded.

Vilma reflected his leaders. Does Goodell understand the culture he polices? I don't think he does. I think Goodell lives inside the cocoon of delusion we in the media and public have created for him. It's a cocoon that says professional athletes are stupid, irresponsible, lawless, spoiled, unworthy of their lofty salaries, undeserving of common respect and in desperate need of a law-and-order commissioner willing to discipline them.

Kernels of truth do not form the foundation for a sophisticated, mature and fair leadership strategy of a position as powerful as NFL commissioner. Kernels of truth often mislead. Vilma was a three-time Academic All-Big East player at Miami. Of Haitian descent, he started a charitable foundation in support of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Vilma shouldn't be defined by his role in the Saints scandal.

Last July, in the aftermath of Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison's anti-Goodell rant in Men's Journal magazine, I wrote about the foolishness of Goodell electing himself as the front man for the NFL's player-conduct policy and crackdown on dangerous hits.

Goodell set himself up as the target of player animosity. His supporters might argue it's a courageous decision by a leader who is trying to implement historic change. They're wrong. It's bad business. It's the immature action of a man in love with his press clippings and intent on establishing himself as the modern-day Pete Rozelle. It's vanity, not integrity.

Goodell wants us — media, fans, players, coaches, executives — to blindly trust that his motives are pure and just. No way. Trust the man/woman who tells you to solely trust his/her level of transparency and his/her willingness to have his/her actions vigorously questioned and reviewed.

Goodell is a self-appointed Supreme Court justice. He makes all the rulings in the lower courts and then allows the men he governs to file appeals in his Supreme Court.

Hell, yes, Jonathan Vilma should sue Roger Goodell. Vilma has no choice. The NFL doesn't have a system of checks and balances in place to oversee the commissioner. Goodell potentially delivered a death knell to Vilma's career.

Even if he got caught up in the bounty culture fostered by the Saints' leaders, does Vilma deserve that, a suspension far more punitive than the one received by Payton?

Hell, no. I hope Vilma wins his defamation lawsuit or Goodell is forced in a court of law to reveal the evidence that justifies such harsh punishment.


tony hipchest
05-21-2012, 12:52 AM
i totally agree with whitlock.

Payton, who also received a year-long suspension, can be an NFL head coach for the next 15 years. Vitt (six-game suspension) can be a high-paid assistant for the next 15 years. Loomis (four-game suspension) can hold a high-paying front-office job for the next 15 years. Goodell's peers — with the exception of Williams (suspended indefinitely) — can easily recoup their losses.

not only can payton coach for many more years to come, i bet goodell is figuring out a way to give him a cooshie job as a NFL Network analyst for the year.

as for the rest of the saints staff, it looks lick mickey loomis will be given the job to temporarily run the New Orleans Hornets (recently purchased by saints owner tom benson)-


Atlanta Dan
05-21-2012, 07:30 AM
Peter King notes that Vilma is not exactly running away from being identified with Bountygate

I think there's one thing I don't get about Jonathan Vilma: how he has as his Twitter avatar the Sports Illustrated cover, screaming "Bounty Culture'' with Vilma front and center, very big, jumping out on the cover. If being degraded by being identified with the bounty story is a sue-able offense for Vilma, and if he accuses Roger Goodell of disparaging his character to the point where it's going to be difficult for him to ever find work in or out of the NFL, why does he identify himself with something so reprehensible? How on the one hand can you want something like the SI cover representing you to the Internet world, and on the other hand you sue the man responsible for allegedly making you so infamous?


05-21-2012, 12:42 PM
... I'm rooting for the meteor...

Hawaii 5-0
05-23-2012, 08:19 PM
Steelers’ Harrison: Goodell lawsuit ‘win-win’ for players

By Scott Brown - Tribune-Review
Published: Wednesday, May 23

It is more than four months before the start of the NFL season, but James Harrison appears to be in midseason form when it comes to tweaking his frequent foil.

The Steelers outside linebacker took a couple of subtle swipes at Roger Goodell on Wednesday, calling the defamation lawsuit that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma brought against the NFL commissioner last week a “win-win” for the players.

“If (Vilma) loses, it shows Goodell does have too much power,” Harrison said following an offseason practice, “and if he wins, it opens up the floodgates.”

Goodell suspended Vilma for the 2012 season for the latter’s role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. Goodell has drawn criticism, particularly from players, for not being more forthcoming about evidence he has against Vilma and others that were disciplined for their part in an illicit pay-for-play system.

“I don’t know what was said in (the Saints’) locker room,” said Steelers guard Willie Colon, who is close friends with New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston. “To purposely go after a guy’s knee, head and leg, I think that’s uncalled for and totally disgusting. But to say guys are wrong after getting after another guy, that’s just the game of football. So I think there’s a fine line. If they crossed it in any way, then they should be handled accordingly. I know we don’t do football like that.”

Harrison, who has been at odds with Goodell since being fined $100,000 for multiple on-field infractions in 2010, said the Vilma case is another example of the commissioner having too much power.

No player has been more critical of Goodell and his crackdown on player misconduct than Harrison.

Harrison, who was suspended for a game last season for a helmet-to-helmet hit, said the players should have done more to check Goodell’s power in the Collective Bargaining Agreement they ratified last year.

The Steelers, Harrison was quick to point out, were the only team that didn’t vote in favor of the CBA. When asked if more players regret not doing the same, the five-time Pro Bowler said, “I would hope so.”

The NFL mandated at the owners meetings earlier this week that players start wearing thigh and knee pads in 2013. The league’s latest safety initiative was news to Harrison.

“I don’t know how many guys end their career on a thigh or a knee bruise,” Harrison said. “If they really want to do something, they should get rid of the high-low block. I thought that was illegal, but it isn’t (on running plays).

“If you ask me I think it’s more dangerous in the run game. When it comes down to it, the (NFL) competition committee doesn’t feel that way. Of course, a few of those guys that are on that (committee) their teams practice doing that so they wouldn’t feel that way.”

http://triblive.com/sports/steelers/1848370-85/harrison-goodell-players-vilma-steelers-nfl-win-power-game-guys?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+tribunereviewsteelers+%28Stee lers+Stories%29

05-24-2012, 02:36 AM
I don't care for Vilma or the Saints, especially since they are/were obviously dirty but I will root for anybody vs Goodell, EVEN IF THEY ARE WRONG. I know that sounds extreme, but Goodell has hurt the game to a poimt where it will never return to what it should be and he needs to be put in his place. This idiot does whatever he wants and then "reviews" his own decisions when players appeal the BS, the phrase "the wolf guarding the henhouse" was made for that exact situation.

Hawaii 5-0
05-24-2012, 08:28 PM
James Harrison is tired of Goodell, glad Vilma is suing him

Posted by Michael David Smith on May 24, 2012


It should come as no surprise that Steelers linebacker James Harrison is pleased that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Harrison, who trashed Goodell in an interview last year only to apologize and say his comments were way out of line, seems to agree with Vilma’s contention that Goodell was way out of line in his public comments about the Saints’ bounty scandal. And Harrison thinks Vilma’s attempt to sue Goodell for defamation is a “win-win,” even if it is unsuccessful.

“If [Vilma] loses, it shows Goodell does have too much power,” Harrison told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “and if he wins, it opens up the floodgates.”

Harrison said he believes the players shouldn’t have signed off on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement last year unless the commissioner’s powers had been curtailed. When the CBA was formally approved last summer, the players in Steelers camp voted 78-6 against it, making them the only team to oppose the new CBA.

Asked if he thinks players on other teams now regret agreeing to the CBA, Harrison answered, “I would hope so.”


Hawaii 5-0
05-31-2012, 10:51 PM
Jonathan Vilma: NFL wouldn’t give me evidence

Posted by Josh Alper on May 31, 2012

http://nbcprofootballtalk.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/jonathanvilmaindianapoliscoltsvneworleansem04zxcdf 66l1.jpg?w=250

Jonathan Vilma says Roger Goodell’s refusal to show him evidence of his activities in the Saints bounty program is the reason why he didn’t speak to league’s investigators about it.

“We asked for evidence and he wouldn’t give it to us,” Vilma told Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. “How can I defend myself when I don’t know what I’m defending against? It’s just logical, things that people decided to ignore.”

Vilma’s attorney Peter Ginsberg also talked about a lack of evidence during a recent appearance on PFT Live. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has also publicly questioned the NFL’s evidence against the players suspended (Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove are the others) by the league.

Rapoport writes that when Vilma, who is also suing Goodell for defamation, was asked whether or not the union advised him not to cooperate with the investigation, the linebacker responded by repeating the question about defending himself. Vilma, who again said that he neither paid nor intended to pay anyone was suspended for a full year by the NFL for his role in the program, although he and the other players suspended by the league are fighting the suspension.

“He was invited to come in with his attorney to discuss the evidence prior to any decision on discipline,” said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello in response to Vilma. “He declined. He has another opportunity to do so in his appeal. The union has been shown evidence.”


Hawaii 5-0
06-01-2012, 10:19 PM
Saints allegedly kept a ledger of bounty payments

Posted By Anthony Ramsey On June 1st 2012.


Can it get any worse?

In what continues to be a messy off-season for the New Orleans Saints, more details are leaking out regarding the bounty system that cost the franchise huge fines and key suspensions for the 2012 season.

According to Pro Football Talk via Y! Sports, the Saints kept a ledger documenting payments to players who successfully met bounty goals. Here are details:

In the ledger, payments of $1,000 for cart-offs (a hit that resulted in a player being helped off the field), $400 for whacks (hard hits) and $100 deductions for mental errors were kept track of for each player.

Two specific entries for the 2009 season were shown during one meeting. In a game at Buffalo on Sept. 27, 2009, there were three $1,000 awards. In a game against the New York Giants on Oct. 18, there was a $1,000 bounty awarded for one cart-off.

There was also a notation that after one game an opposing player who had been carted off was placed on injured reserve. The notation of the player on IR included an exclamation mark.

“The players knew what their actions were for,” the source said.

There have been numerous debates about the violent nature of NFL football, but regardless of your stance on the topic it becomes difficult to defend compensating players extra money for intentionally disabling an opponent.

The NFL has already done their damage to the Saints franchise for their participation in the bounty system, so all any further details will do is further tarnish the reputations on those involved. Hopefully this ends any possible “bounty era”, as it has no place in professional sports.


06-01-2012, 10:58 PM
Saints LB Vilma wants evidence of Bountygate as reports of bounty ledger emerge (http://www.examiner.com/article/saints-lb-vilma-wants-evidence-of-bountygate-as-reports-of-bounty-ledger-emerge)

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said yesterday to NFL.com that he asked commissioner Roger Goodell for evidence of his involvement in the alleged bounty program, later dubbed 'Bountygate', that had been in place in the New Orleans locker room since former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams joined the team in 2009. Williams earlier joined the St. Louis Rams as defensive coordinator under new head coach Jeff Fisher; however, he was suspended indefinitely by the league in the wake of the bounty investigations.

Vilma was also suspended for the entire duration of the 2012 NFL season by the commissioner for his alleged involvement in the Bountygate scandal. Vilma claimed that the commissioner would not share evidence with him, to which he responded, “how can I defend myself if I don’t know what I’m defending against?”


Meanwhile, reports are surfacing of hardcopy documentation of the implementation of the bounties today. Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, in an exclusive story, writes that the NFL “has a copy of a ‘ledger’ that was kept detailing weekly earnings for players in the New Orleans Saints bounty system”. He also notes that ledger “points to the fact that players were told on a week-by-week basis of their performance” while noting that it kept track of money earned for “whacks and “cart-offs” in addition to money lost for “mental errors”.

tony hipchest
06-02-2012, 03:23 AM
the nfl just sank his battleship.

while that doesnt directly implicate him, they can release more evidence if they want to.

they most certainly will if they HAVE to.

06-02-2012, 07:46 AM
i get the fact that Vilma wanted to see the "evidence" so he knew what he was defending against (also i'm sure he was hoping they didn't have anything..).
But the fact is that of course the NFL has documents and evidence. They're not going to suspend him for an entire year with nothing to back it up. The NFL has done some dumb things over the last year or so, but they're not THAT dumb.

Atlanta Dan
06-02-2012, 08:38 AM
the nfl just sank his battleship.

while that doesnt directly implicate him, they can release more evidence if they want to.

they most certainly will if they HAVE to.

Exactly - this is a very well run PR campaign by the league

The league office leaks incriminating documents piecemeal rather than disclosing everything it has that is incriminating or exculpatory

The Saints coaches and front office guys want to work in the league again so they will roll over

Vilma should have gone before Goodell, confessed his sins to his master, and perhaps had the 16 game suspension knocked down to 8 (remember how Ben finally recognized what he needed to do and had his suspension reduced to 4 games?). Now his season is gone and unlike coaches that is a year he cannot get back as he gets older.

Vilma can thank the NFLPA for this - the union could have sought an arbitration clause like the baseball players union has for review of disciplinary action (think the player who had his 50 game suspension for alleged PED use overturned by an outside arbitrator would have won if the baseball commissioner had the only vote?) but decided not to push that in last year's negotiations

06-02-2012, 08:59 AM
this is a very well run PR campaign by the league

the way the League is run these days, that's all it is... a PR-machine

build a stadium with an over-head monitor too-low (by NFL specs) that may interfere with a ball-in-play??? ~ tell the masses to marvel at the other amenities the facility has to offer

have the Super Bowl at a stadium (same-place), where tickets are sold to fans for seats that don't exist??? ~ throw more confetti, and the networks won't mention it

former Commissioner Pete Rozelle came from a PR-background, yet he nutured the game's popularity based-on the game-itself, but Ms. Goodell has taken the 'hype' to new levels

Vilma can thank the NFLPA for this

what amazes me is that the 1800+ member NFLPA hasn't gone-after Vilma and the other Saints players involved, for trying to injure & ruin the careers of it's due-paying brethren
if a team-owner had verbally mentioned 'getting' an opposing player, the NFLPA would've screamed like a mashed-cat, but because it is THEIR members who were doing the dirty-deeds, they are silent

hence, I root for the meteor

Hawaii 5-0
06-02-2012, 01:57 PM
Vilma’s lawyer calls Goodell “misguided and irresponsible”

Posted by Mike Florio on June 2, 2012


Attorney Peter Ginsberg, who represents Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma in the bounty appeal and the defamation lawsuit filed against Commissioner Roger Goodell, has issued a statement in response to Friday’s stories regarding the ledger that supposedly documents bounty payments to Saints players.

Ginsberg calls the report “yet more evidence of how misguided and irresponsible Commissioner Goodell has been in handling this issue.”

The lawyer then raises three alleged deficiencies regarding the leaked ledger evidence: (1) the information identifies no specific players who were injured or paid; (2) statistics from the 2009 game between the Saints and the Panthers, for which three $1,000 payments allegedly were made, “show that opposing defensive players, not offensive players, were the brunt of any physical plays”; and (3) the payments made, regardless of the name applied, reflected “good, clean, legal plays, and . . . any dirty or penalized play resulted in fines to players, not awards.”

Ginsberg then offers a general comment on Vilma’s role in the alleged bounty program: “The truth is that Jonathan Vilma gave no money, incentive or encouragement ever — not at any time in his eight-year career — to injure or knock out of any game any player with a dirty or unsportsmanlike hit. The facts are plain and simple. During the three seasons in question, Jonathan Vilma was one of the least penalized players not only on the Saints but in the NFL. There is not one instance in which Jonathan Vilma set out to injure a player or gave any incentive to another player to injure an opposing player.”

That final paragraph invites questions as to whether Vilma gave money, incentive, and/or encouragement to knock a player out of a game with a clean or sportsmanlike hit. Either way, this controversy won’t be resolved until someone/anyone discloses all evidence of player guilt and/or innocence.


Hawaii 5-0
06-05-2012, 02:00 AM
Burbank’s ruling doesn’t prove, or disprove, the existence of a bounty system

Posted by Mike Florio on June 5, 2012


Headlines can be misleading, intentionally or otherwise. Monday’s development in the bounty case — the decision by Stephen Burbank to reject one of the grievances filed by the NFLPA on behalf of the suspended players — has been interpreted by many as a decision that the appeals have failed and that the suspension will be served.

That’s not what it means.

The gist of the nine-page ruling is that, while Burbank has the sole ability to determine whether teams have violated the salary cap via additional payments to players above and beyond their contracts, that rule doesn’t apply to the three players accused of funding the alleged bounty pool, since the players aren’t the “team.”

That’s it. Sometimes (OK, rarely), it really is that simple.

As the NFLPA’s statement in response to the decision points out, Burbank concludes his ruling by explaining clearly what the decision is not — “nothing in this opinion is intended to convey a view about the underlying facts or the appropriateness of the discipline imposed.”

In light of the language of the labor deal, Burbank likely made the right call. As to Packers defensive Anthony Hargrove, over whose claim Burbank retained jurisdiction pending clarification by the NFL as to the behavior for which he has been punished, Burbank gave the NFL a clear roadmap for keeping the discipline away from Burbank’s authority.

The NFLPA still has a pending grievance that attacks Commissioner Roger Goodell’s ability to punish any players for conduct occurring before the current labor deal was signed in August 2011, and that argues the appeals should be handled by Ted Cottrell or Art Shell. The players could win on either of those points.

Besides, the appeals still have to be handled on the merits (unless the NFLPA prevails on its argument that player are immune for anything that happened before August 2011). If Goodell hears the appeals and upholds the suspensions, a legal challenge may be pursued on the back end.

Thus, the NFLPA initially has failed in its effort to shift the process away from Goodell and to Stephen Burbank. That’s all that happened.

And that decision will be appealed, so there’s still a chance that the players will prevail on that point.

So regardless of how badly you may want all of this to be over, there’s still a long way to go.


Hawaii 5-0
06-06-2012, 10:14 PM
Goodell to hear bounty appeals June 18

Posted by Mike Florio on June 6, 2012

Despite a pending grievance questioning his authority to discipline four players for involvement in the Saints’ alleged bounty system and an expected appeal of a separate grievance that raises a similar point, Commissioner Roger Goodell will conduct hearings on the appeals of the quartet of suspensions.

Steve Wyche of NFL Network reports that the hearings will proceed on June 18 as to Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (who was suspended a full season), Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games), Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove (eight games), and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three games).

The hearing date has been picked even though arbitrator Shyam Das has yet to rule on the questions of whether the new labor deal blocks any discipline against players for conduct happening before August 2011, and whether the appeals should be heard by Ted Cottrell and Art Shell, who review penalties imposed for on-field misconduct.

A separate grievance arguing that the penalties fall within the jurisdiction of System Arbitrator Richard Burbank, who handles alleged violations of the salary cap, will be appealed by the NFLPA. Burbank ruled earlier this week that he has no jurisdiction over the suspensions.

The rules applicable to the hearings before Goodell aren’t known. Will evidence of guilt be provided to the players so that they can prepare to challenge the league’s case with arguments, documents, witnesses, or other tactics? Or will the league simply rely on summaries or characterizations of evidence? Will witnesses supporting the league’s claims testify? How much time will be allotted to the process?

Depending on whether and to what extent the players believe a fair process will be utilized, don’t be shocked if one or more of the players (most likely, Vilma) refuse to proceed. Then again, submitting to an unfair process could make it easier to attack the final decision in court, after the fact.


Hawaii 5-0
06-07-2012, 01:39 PM
Players will get evidence three days before bounty hearing

Posted by Mike Florio on June 7, 2012


With Commissioner Roger Goodell setting the bounty appeal hearings for Monday, June 18, questions linger regarding the procedures to be used and, most importantly, whether the NFL will share raw evidence of the bounty system with the players who are challenging their suspensions: Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove.

Per a source with knowledge of the proceedings, the league is required by the CBA to disclose the evidence it plans to rely upon during the appeal hearings three days in advance of the sessions.

That’s not a blanket requirement that the league open its files. Instead, the league must produce only what it plans to use.

Thus, if there is evidence that points to innocence, the league isn’t required to give it to the players and the NFLPA.

Though, in theory, the league could keep its intended evidence simple in light of the fact that Goodell has full authority over the appeals, the final outcome most likely will be subject to attack in court. The more slanted and biased the process seems, the more effective the players arguments for relief will become. Thus, if the league holds back evidence, the suspensions could be more vulnerable to being overturned by a federal judge.

Given that the league plans to conduct all four appeal hearings on the same day, it’s unlikely that the NFL will use a lengthy, complex presentation of evidence. Few if any trials can be completed in one day; the idea that four hearings involving hotly disputed allegations can be conducted on June 18 suggests that the procedures are more perfunctory than meaningful.

The players will have a much better sense of how detailed the process will be next Friday, when the NFL hands over the evidence that will be used.


Atlanta Dan
06-18-2012, 08:03 PM
Apparently the Saints prepared PowerPoints which they did not get around to deleting from the hard drives - brilliant

As Mary Jo White, the former federal prosecutor who examined the evidence for the National Football League in its pay-for-performance/bounty case against the New Orleans Saints, went through reams of evidence Monday afternoon for 12 reporters in league offices, I had one overriding thought: All of this cannot be invented.,,,

The testimony from disgraced defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to the league, in which he said he knew the program "was rolling the dice with player safety and someone could have been maimed."...

The PowerPoint slide collected from a sweep of the Saints' computer system, from the night before the Saints' playoff loss at Seattle in January 2011, complete with a picture of TV bounty hunter Duane "Dog'' Chapman, that said, "Now is the time to do our job ... collect bounty $$$! No apologies! Let's go hunting!''..

The unending stream of evidence from Saints computers, which is going to create some very strange bedfellows inside the Saints' football facility ... seeing that the two-year sweep of the all Saints' e-mails and computer-generated PowerPoints was OK'd by owner Tom Benson, who helped seal the case against the four suspended players and three coaches and general manager Mickey Loomis by allowing forensics experts to search for incriminating electronic evidence against his employees.


ESPN also is lined up with Peter King behind Goodell on this - Saints are getting rolled in the media

FWIW Florio at PFT is not on board

If any of the evidence shown today to an Apostle-sized collection of scribes wasn’t given to the NFLPA and the four suspended players on Friday, Peter needs to add another word to his description.


So either the NFL did a fantastic job of propping up items such as Sean Pamphilon’s ridiculously rambling 10,000-plus-word manifesto during the dog-and-pony show, or the NFL showed the reporters evidence that the NFL failed to give to the suspended players and their union.

If the latter is the truth, there’s something very wrong with this picture.


Hawaii 5-0
06-19-2012, 02:19 PM
Ryan Clark Tried To Warn Everyone About The Absolute Power Of Roger Goodell

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012 by Dave Bryan

The Pittsburgh Steelers as a team voted against ratifying the new CBA last summer and now it appears several players across the league wished they had done the same.

Jim Corbett of the USA Today reported on Monday that Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Eric Winston expressed deep regret to his medium that the NFLPA didn't do more to curb the disciplinary and appeal powers of commissioner Roger Goodell in light of the appeal hearings of the players involved in Bountygate.

"Obviously we don't want Roger Goodell having absolute power. In a lot of this process, it seems like he does," said Winston. "It's unfortunate. It seems like he's running amok with it and deciding to do what he wants and it really doesn't matter what the evidence says. Unfortunately, we don't have an alternative option to appeal to."

Winston is not alone as Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White took to Twitter with his disgust on Monday as well. White stated in his social media rant that he never wanted to sign that voting card and that he doesn't know why they are all complaining, because they did all of this to themselves. He stated that he blames the NFLPA for failing the players.

Steelers union player rep Ryan Clark must feel like a prophet of sorts as he warned about the power that Goodell would hold moving forward. Clark summed it up back in early August of last year why the Steelers as a team would likely vote against ratifying the CBA. "With Roger Goodell having total control over the fine process, that's a deal-breaker for us in this situation." Clark also added, "We feel like someone else should be on there," as he talked about the appeals and disciplinary process. "There should be some ... type of way -- actually someone who's not on the NFL payroll. A big issue, for us, especially, as a team, is Roger Goodell ... being judge, jury and appeals system."

Corbett also heard from Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, the team’s union rep, via a text to say that the issue wasn’t considered a deal-breaker at the time. "Yes, the players wish he didn’t have that power, but it wasn’t worth sacrificing CBA [over]," Feely said.

Perhaps it should have been, but it appears to be too late now. Other players and reps may have thought that Clark was over the top with his thinking at the time because of all of the discipline the Steelers as a team had received over the last few years. The NFLPA had a model case of the power that Goodell had right in front of them, but they, as a group, chose to ignore it.

I am not saying what the Saints players did is right as the evidence seems overwhelmingly against them. Regardless of what is real and what is false, I bet all involved wish there was a third party to rule on it and handle the discipline.

One thing is for certain. Whatever happens moving forward over these next 9 years, the NFLPA can't say that Clark and the Steelers didn't try to warn them.

http://network.yardbarker.com/nfl/article_external/ryan_clark_tried_to_warn_everyone_about_the_absolu te_power_of_roger_goodell/11044709

Hawaii 5-0
06-19-2012, 06:45 PM
Ornstein denies telling NFL that Vilma offered money

Posted by Mike Florio on June 19, 2012


And the craziness continues.

On Monday, NFL outside counsel Mary Jo White said at the bounty appeal hearing that Mike Ornstein corroborated the claim that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game, and that Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 NFC divisional-round playoff game.

The only problem with that? Ornstein tells PFT that he never said what the NFL now claims he said.

“I never corroborated $10,000,” Ornstein said. “The only thing that I told them was that we had the [pregame] meeting, we jumped around, we screamed around, and I never saw [Vilma] offer one dime. And I never heard him say it.”

Ornstein admits that the Saints had a pay-for-performance program in 2009, but he repeatedly denied that he told the NFL that Vilma offered any money knocking any player out of any game.

“Did I say to the league that I saw Jonathan Vilma offer $10,000?” Ornstein said. “Absolutely not.”

I asked Ornstein the question several different ways, to ensure there was no ambiguity. He consistently and repeatedly (and at times profanely) denied ever telling the NFL that Vilma offered money to anyone who knocked Favre and/or Warner out of the 2009 playoff games.

It’s unclear what, if any, impact this has on the broader bounty case, other than to call into serious question the validity of the league’s reliance on Ornstein as proof that Vilma offered money to anyone, for anything. Though there’s a chance Ornstein is lying now, there’s also a chance he was lying then, and given his history of legal entanglements, the league may have badly erred by using him to support any aspect of the bounty case.


Hawaii 5-0
06-23-2012, 01:54 AM
Fujita to Goodell at appeal hearing: “What the hell are you doing, Roger?”

Posted by Mike Florio on June 22, 2012

Lawyer Peter Ginsberg wasn’t the only one who had tough words for Commissioner Roger Goodell at Monday’s appeal hearing in the bounty case. Browns linebacker Scott Fujita was far more brief, and far more pointed.

“I saw [Goodell] in the [appeal] hearings and he offered to shake all of our hands,” Fujita told Dave Zirin of SiriusXM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio, via SI.com. ”Some of the other players didn’t, but I went ahead and shook his hand, and I just said to him, ‘What the hell are you doing, Roger?‘”

How did the Commissioner respond?

“He had nothing to say,” Fujita said. ”His face sure turned red, though.”

So much for the draft-night man hugs.

Fujita also addressed the merits of the situation, echoing the notion that the Saints had a pay-for-performance system coupled with tough talk but no deliberate intent to injure.

“I know exactly what [happened] and what didn’t,” Fujita said. ”The problem with this whole thing is that it’s just an unfortunate situation where you have a defensive coordinator [Gregg Williams] who I like a lot, but said a lot of really vulgar, inappropriate, outlandish things. You couple that with some guys who occasionally throw in some money for big plays — which I have admitted to doing — and it becomes a perfect storm, and also it comes at a time politically when I think the league was looking for something like this.

“So, it’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that a lot of players have been dragged into it when the reality is it’s just a kind of loose, joking around, performance-type system of motivation coupled with some really, really inappropriate language that I’m sensitive to, but again, it is just language.”

Fujita apparently wants the NFL to focus on what the program was, and to clarify what it wasn’t.

“People said I was stupid for confessing to paying for big plays. I didn’t think of that as a big deal,” Fujita said. ”Is it against the rules? Technically, yeah, it’s against the rules, but that’s the way it was done when I was a young player and I’m not ashamed of that. If that’s what I’m going down for, let’s call it for what it is. The problem is that the league has billed this thing as being this super-organized pay-to-injure scheme, which it never was.

“Now, it turns out when the evidence is getting released that there is actually very little to nothing on anything pay-to-injure related, especially as it pertains to me. So, again, if it’s pay-for-performance, let’s call it what it is, and if I have to take my medicine for that, I’ll do that, and we’ll move on, but that’s not what the league has billed this as.”

Fujita explained that the issue is about more than the money he’ll lose during a three-game suspension.

“Another thing I have a hard time with is that a lot of people just say, ‘You only have a couple games [suspension]. Just be glad with what you got. Stop complaining and move on.’ It’s more than just a couple games,” Fujita said. ”My reputation is a lot more valuable to me than three game checks. So for someone to say ‘just take your medicine and move on,’ my response is no. If you’re accused of something you didn’t do, and they were going to not only ruin your reputation, but also take a lot of money away from you, you would not just lie down. So it’s troubling. It’s been hard for me. It’s been a stress at home. I’m lucky to have such a supportive family with young kids who don’t understand any of this kind of stuff so that brightens my day, but it has been very hard for me.”

The good news is that the discussion of the actual or perceived flaws in the NFL’s investigation could be prompting the league to focus on precisely why the players are being disciplined — for contributing to and participating in a pay-for-performance system that created an incentive to inflict injury on opponents (regardless of whether they actually did) and not for deliberately attempting to inflict injury in exchange for cash.

The bad news is that it’s too late to put the bounty toothpaste back in the tube. The Saints were painted as a marauding gang of Gilloolys in March; calling it what it really was in June will do nothing to change the perception that has been cemented into the public’s collective consciousness.


Atlanta Dan
06-23-2012, 08:22 AM
Interesting that Florio at PFT is bonding with the Saints but continues to trash Tomlin and the Steelers for having been the first team to challenge Goodell's practices

06-23-2012, 08:40 AM

"... fine James Harrison $250,000!!!"

06-23-2012, 12:08 PM

06-24-2012, 09:50 AM
Interesting that Florio at PFT is bonding with the Saints but continues to trash Tomlin and the Steelers for having been the first team to challenge Goodell's practices

Not surprising since the toilet sniffing Florio is a well known for being a Steeler hater. I won't post or even read his crap let alone click on his website. Every time you click on a website you vote for more of the same content and I'd love to see the tool Florio driven out of the business for lack of attention.

Hawaii 5-0
07-11-2012, 11:34 PM
League files grievance against Vilma for pursuing defamation case

Posted by Mike Florio on July 12, 2012


Things have quieted down a bit in connection with the Saints bounty scandal, but the present calm comes merely from a minor break in the storms.

Eventually, the lawsuits filed recently in Louisiana will heat up, with inevitable efforts to block the suspension pending the outcome to the courtroom challenges to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s exercise of power over the players. As to the defamation claim filed by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma against Goodell, the NFL has thrown down the proverbial gloves.

Vilma has disclosed on Twitter that the league has asked him, perhaps not politely, to abandon the case.

Jonathan Vilma via twitter:

The nfl sent me a letter "demanding" I drop my defamation suit or else...lol or else wat?!?? They no likey me lawsuitey
11 Jul 12

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the more accurate description is that the NFL has filed a grievance under the CBA against the NFLPA and Vilma seeking an order forcing Vilma to dismiss his defamation suit. On Wednesday, lawyer Peter Ginsberg informed the league that Vilma will not be withdrawing the defamation suit, arguing that the grievance filed by the league has no merit.

The letter, a copy of which PFT has obtained, contends that the grievance procedure contained in the Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t apply in this case, because Vilma filed his suit not “against the NFL or any Club” but against Goodell, and because the defamation claim arises not from the suspension imposed by Goodell on Vilma but from the allegedly false public statements made by Goodell before imposing discipline.

The grievance “constitutes an improper effort to interfere with a pending judicial matter,” Ginsberg writes in his letter to Dennis Curran, NFL Sr. Vice President of Labor Litigation & Policy. “If you pursue the Grievance, we will consider seeking sanctions against the NFL [Management Council] before Honorable Helen G. Berrigan . . . based on NFLMC’s improper attempt to obstruct a pending judicial action in which it is not a party.”

So, yes, as Vilma surmises, the NFL “no likey [his] lawsuitey.” And Vilma’s lawyer doesn’t like how the NFL is voicing its displeasure.

And the end result is that the ever-twisting-and-turning bounty case has developed yet another twist and/or turn.


08-06-2012, 10:30 AM
There's a report out that the NFL has offered to reduced Vilma's suspension to 8 games if he drops the lawsuit. However, the NFL quickly rebutted that insisting that no settlement offer was made.

Herr Goodell getting nervous about something?

08-06-2012, 10:38 AM
There's a report out that the NFL has offered to reduced Vilma's suspension to 8 games if he drops the lawsuit. However, the NFL quickly rebutted that insisting that no settlement offer was made.

Herr Goodell getting nervous about something?

it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind

09-07-2012, 02:51 PM
Looks like Herr Goodell loses for now:


Appeals panel overturns bounty suspensions
Posted by Mike Florio on September 7, 2012, 3:40 PM EDT

In the end, Judge Berrigan didn’t have to issue a ruling at all.

An internal appeals panel has overturned the bounty suspensions imposed on the players, a source with knowledge of the decision tells PFT. The development was first reported by Jim Trotter of SI.com.

“Victory is mine!!!!” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said, via Twitter.

Indeed it is. Unlike any ruling that may have been issued by Judge Berrigan, the ruling from the internal appeals panel, which overturned a prior decision from arbitrator Richard Burbank, is final and binding. The league has no recourse — unless the league chooses to file a lawsuit attacking the outcome of the internal arbitration. (Which is what the players had been trying to do before Judge Berrigan.)

As to Judge Berrigan, she may still issue a ruling adopting and enforcing the outcome of the internal appeal, giving federal credibility to the decision of the panel.

What it means, in a nutshell, is that any discipline will be imposed under Article 14 of the CBA.

Hawaii 5-0
09-07-2012, 04:47 PM
Bounty players' bans overturned

Updated: September 7, 2012
ESPN.com news services

NEW ORLEANS -- The suspensions of Jonathan Vilma and three other players in the NFL's bounty investigation were lifted Friday by a three-member appeals panel and the league reinstated those players a few minutes later.

While the ruling allows Saints linebacker Vilma, banned for the 2012 season, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove to play immediately, it does not permanently void their suspensions.

The return of linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith is a huge victory for the Saints and will be significant on the field, writes Pat Yasinskas. Blog

Linebacker Scott Fujita wasn't with the Browns this week, but he wasn't far away, either. Now, he's back and ready to help the team, writes Paul Kuharsky. Blog

Still, the ruling comes just two days before the first full slate of NFL games this season and is a setback for commissioner Roger Goodell and the league.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Goodell would "make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed" for violating the league's bounty rule.

"Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend," Aiello said.

League sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Goodell is likely to reach a new decision in the coming weeks, but it will not be before this weekend's games.

Vilma tweeted: "Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin."

Added Fujita: "I'm overwhelmed with all the support. Thank you so much everyone. Can't tell you how much it means to me."

The ruling does not affect New Orleans coach Sean Payton, suspended for the season, interim coach Joe Vitt (six games) or general manager Mickey Loomis (six games).

If Vilma, Smith and Fujita are now on their respective teams' rosters Sunday, their salaraies will be guaranteed for the 2012 season. Hargrove was released by the Packers in the preseason.

"I think it is an extremely strong statement that a three-judge panel unanimously ruled to lift the suspensions," Saints quarterback Drew Brees told ESPN's Ed Werder. "It makes you feel like they took a very hard look at all the evidence there and saw that we were in the right. ... Today makes you feel like justice has been served."

While the panel did not address the merits of the NFL's bounty investigation, it said Goodell overstepped his authority in hearing the players' appeals of their punishment for their roles in the Saints bounty program that paid cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.

The panel's decision states that special master Stephen Burbank, not Goodell, should discipline players for receiving money from a pool that paid for big plays. Goodell's role, the panel said, should be limited to whether he can prove the players intended to injure opponents, which would fall in the category of conduct detrimental to the game. Players and coaches implicated in the bounty pool have testified under oath in a related federal court case they never intended to injure opposing players.

"Whether the commissioner tries to readdress the situation or not is his call," said Peter Ginsberg, Vilma's attorney. "We are certainly hoping the appeals board has made it clear the commissioner tried to grab jurisdiction and impose penalties over an area he does not have oversight. ... The factual record in the court makes it clear he has acted in a biased and inappropriate manner."

The Saints open their season at home against Washington on Sunday, while the Browns host Philadelphia.

Earlier this week, Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer said Smith, who participated in training camp and the preseason before he began serving his four-game suspension on Monday, would be ready to play against Washington if available.

Vilma's status was not as clear. His season-long suspension began before training camp and he has been trying to work his way back from offseason surgery on his left knee.

Saints players had recently finished practice when they received word of the panel's ruling.

"It's huge," said Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, a defensive captain. "Those are two huge leaders we've got. They're great players. We've got a talented team, but you add Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, our talent level goes up that much. For our team, it's a break."

Even if Vilma could not play right away, Jenkins said his presence in the locker room and meetings would be valuable.

"Great news and exciting to hear," Saints linebacker Scott Shanle told Werder. "It's been a long process that didn't involve a lot of facts. These guys have stood strong and stood by what was right. Glad it paid off with this ruling."

A team source previously told Werder that Vilma planned to attend Sunday's season opener against the Washington Redskins, but believed he was at least a week or two from being ready to play because of a knee injury.

The Browns were notified by the league that Fujita was eligible. They were also issued a roster exemption, which will allow them to carry 54 players.

Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was sure the 33-year-old Fujita would be able to come back and have an immediate impact.

"I'm confident Scott has been keeping his conditioning up and he knows the system," Jackson said.

"He's got what 12 years in? He'll be fine. If he's able to come back there will be a lot of excitement in this locker room."

Fujita was barred from Cleveland's training facility this week, but he stayed in town and worked out on his own at nearby Baldwin Wallace University in the event the suspension was lifted. Fujita, who serves on the NFLPA's executive committee, had expressed confidence he would be on the field in Week 1. His return is welcome news to the Browns.

Hargrove, docked eight games, was released last month by Green Bay and was not currently with a team.

The panel consisted of retired federal Judge Fern Smith of San Francisco, retired federal Judge Richard Howell of New York, and Georgetown professor James Oldham. It met in New York last week to hear arguments from the NFL Players Association, which appealed Burbank's ruling that Goodell had the authority to hear and rule on the players' appeals of their suspensions. NFL attorneys had asked the panel to affirm Burbank's ruling, but the panel sided in large part with the union.