Last week, a three-member panel overturned the bounty suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players — linebacker Jonathan Vilma (2012 season), defensive end Will Smith (four games), free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (eight games) and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three games) — clearing the path for the four players to play in last weekend's games. Smith was the only player to actually play on Kickoff Weekend, but the ruling was deemed to be a setback to the league, even though the panel kept the door open for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to re-suspend the players.
Thursday, nearly a week after the appeals panel issued its ruling, the National Football League released a statement to help clarify what the appeal panel had actually done.
In light of some confusion surrounding the ruling of the CBA Appeals Panel, it is important to understand what the panel did and did not rule. The panel did not overturn the suspensions and did not say Commissioner Goodell overstepped his authority.
The panel's decision asks no more than that the commissioner clarify his earlier rulings to ensure — and to clearly state — that no part of the prior ruling was attributable to matters within Professor Burbank's authority (salary cap violations). It does not require the commissioner to take additional evidence or to "reweigh" the evidence currently in the record. The panel did not take issue with any findings that were made in the course of the investigation, did not exonerate anyone involved, and did not say that the commissioner "overstepped his authority."
The panel made clear that the commissioner had full authority to impose discipline on the players so long as the discipline was attributable to conduct detrimental to the league, rather than "undisclosed compensation." The panel asked only that he clarify that he was not relying on the "undisclosed" nature of the financial incentives in imposing the discipline. In the meantime, the panel put the suspensions on hold.
So Goodell could still suspend the four players, but the commissioner has said that he hopes to meet with the four suspended players "as soon as possible," with Tuesday, Sept. 18 reportedly the date that meeting would occur. According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, Vilma has requested a separate meeting with the commissioner, which is scheduled to take place on Monday.
Since billable hours remains a subplot of the entire issue, in advance of that meeting, and in response to the statement put forth by the NFL, Peter Ginsberg, the attorney for Vilma, issued a statement of his own.
"It is interesting and illuminating that it took the NFL almost one week to develop a publishable rationalization of the Appeals Board decision," Ginsberg said via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. "Contrary to the NFL's media statement, the Appeals Panel voided the suspensions — it did not 'put the suspensions on hold,' as the NFL now pretends. And the Appeals Board is clearly based on the conclusion that the commissioner overstepped his jurisdiction."
This matter should heat up in the early part of next week, provided the meetings between the players and Goodell actually happen.
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