When a three-member appeals panel vacated the bounty-related suspensions of four current and former players with the New Orleans Saints, linebacker Jonathan Vilma quoted Stewie Griffin by declaring "victory is mine." That victory turned out to be short-lived, however, as on Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reaffirmed the discipline for the four players while reducing the length of the suspensions for Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita, the two former members of the Saints.
The NFLPA immediately issued a statement.
"For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever. The only evidence that exists is the League's gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league's refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake.
"We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players' rights with vigilance."
The four players have a 72-hour window to begin the appeal process, during which time they can practice and play in games. The issue with deciding whether or not to pursue an appeal is that Goodell appoints who will hear the appeal and could choose to do so himself. While those appeals would almost certainly be denied, it would be a proper step towards seeking an injunction blocking the suspensions from a federal judge.
As for the discipline, Vilma's season-long suspension was upheld, though Goodell said the veteran linebacker may remain on the Saints' "Physically Unable to Perform" list for the mandated six weeks, at which point his suspension will begin. Vilma will be paid while on the PUP list, so he'll earn $564,706 of his $1.6 million base salary for the 2012 season. Had Vilma's suspension not been vacated in September, he would have forfeited his entire salary for this season.
Vilma was not surprised by the news that his suspension was upheld.
Just woke up from a nap. this is not news to me pride won't let him admit he's wrong. guy died from a roach eating contest, now that's news
— Jonathan Vilma (@JonVilma51) October 9, 2012
Saints defensive end Will Smith's four-game suspension remained intact as Goodell found that he "engaged in conduct detrimental by endorsing the creation of the pay-for-performance/bounty program, and made substantial contributions in support of the program, notwithstanding the fact that it offered incentives for cart-offs and knockouts." If an appeal is unsuccessful, Smith will lose $194,118 in salary this season.
Reductions in suspensions were granted to Hargrove, whose eight-game suspension was reduced to seven, with commissioner Goodell giving Hargrove five games credit for time served. Hargrove went to training camp with the Green Bay Packers, but was released and remains a free agent. If/when Hargrove signs with a new club he will only have to sit out two games. Fujita, who has 14 tackles and a sack for the Cleveland Browns, had his suspension reduced from three games to one.
Goodell acknowledged that evidence brought by Fujita during his appeal on Sept. 28 factored in the decision to reduce the length of his suspension, but found that Fujita "offered financial incentives to other players in violation of Section 9.1(C)(8) and 9.3(F) of the Constitution and By-laws," which warranted league discipline.
Fujita took issue with not only Goodell's findings in the bounty case, but the commissioner's overall track record on health and safety issues, as well. Fujita's extensive statement on the matter:
"I'm pleased the Commissioner has finally acknowledged that I never participated in any so-called 'bounty' program, as I've said for the past 7 months. However, his condescending tone was neither accurate nor productive. Additionally, I am now purportedly being suspended for failing to confront my former defensive coordinator for his inappropriate use of language. This seems like an extremely desperate attempt to punish me. I also think it sets a bad precedent when players can be disciplined for not challenging the behavior of their superiors. This is an absolute abuse of the power that's been afforded to the Commissioner.
"For me, the issue of player health & safety is personal. For the league and the Commissioner, it's about perception & liability.
"The Commissioner says he is disappointed in me. The truth is, I'm disappointed in him. His positions on player health and safety since a 2009 congressional hearing on concussions have been inconsistent at best. He failed to acknowledge a link between concussions & post-career brain disease, pushed for an 18-game regular season, committed to a full season of Thursday night games, has continually challenged players' rights to file workers compensation claims for on-the-job injuries, and he employed incompetent replacement officials for the start of the 2012 season. His actions or lack thereof are by the league's own definition, 'conduct detrimental.'
"My track record on the issue of player health & safety speaks for itself. And clearly, as I just listed, the Commissioner's does too."