Sources: League could drop Saints suspensions

Two NFL sources indicated Sunday night that the league will entertain the idea of not suspending Saints defensive ends Charles Grant(notes) and Will Smith(notes) this season because it doesn’t appear the league can suspend Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams(notes) for the same violation of league rules.

“That’s one of the ideas we’re throwing around right now,” said one of the aforementioned source. “Obviously, the [NFL] Players Association would like us to capitulate right now and give up, but I don’t think that’s what anybody is ready to do.”

All four players and former New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister(notes), who is not currently on an NFL roster, face four-game suspensions from the NFL for testing positive before the 2008 season for a banned diuretic that was contained in a diet supplement known as StarCaps.

The case has progressed from the NFL appeals process to state and federal courts. Last week, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Minnesota players can sue the NFL in Minnesota state court over violating state law. That trial in Minnesota state court would not take place until after this season, thus further delaying the four-game suspensions.

While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell vowed Friday during a radio interview on WFAN in New York to continue the legal battle – be it in state court, the Supreme Court or in Congress – he also talked about how there “is a fairness question for all the athletes.”

“Secondarily, there are competitive questions,” Goodell said. Specifically, New Orleans could complain that the laws in the state of Minnesota give the Vikings an unfair advantage.

All of the players were allowed to play during Week 1 because the court decision hadn’t been made as of Tuesday.

The idea that the NFL could withhold the suspensions was first broached by on Sunday. The league sources confirmed that withholding the suspensions was being considered in the interim. However, both sources said the league was a long way from backing away altogether from suspending the players.

During the offseason, the NFL and the NFLPA negotiated a settlement of the issues. Several sources have disagreed about whether a resolution could have been reached to keep the players from being suspended, but the talks ultimately broke off.

The NFLPA said Friday that it would be open to further talks with the league about the issue. One of the main complaints by the union is that the NFL neglected to directly inform players of the substance in StarCaps, even though the league knew more than a year before the players tested positive that StarCaps contained the banned substance.

“The players objected to a system where the NFL withheld information from its players and nonetheless punished the players for something about which they were unaware,” the union wrote in a statement. “What the NFL dismisses as mere silence, players challenged in the pursuit of fairness. Nonetheless, the NFL knows that the players continued to seek a mutual resolution of this issue up until this decision. The NFL’s concern for uniformity is as important today as it was before the Eighth Circuit’s decision. We are reviewing the decision, but we continue to welcome the opportunity to discuss a resolution that is fair to all players.”

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Sep 13, 2009