The New Orleans Saints' bounty ordeal likely will move a step closer to finality Tuesday, when arbitrator Paul Tagliabue is expected to issue his verdict on the players' appeals, multiple media outlets reported.
However, Tagliabue's verdict is expected to be delayed for a week so the players can ask the U.S. District Court in New Orleans to validate the ruling.
Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove appealed suspensions handed down by the NFL for their alleged involvement in the Saints' reported pay-to-injure program.
Attorneys for the players recently cross-examined key witnesses, including former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The four players recently rejected a plea-bargain-style deal from the league, as they refused to acknowledge guilt.
The NFL's offer would have reduced Hargrove's suspension from seven games to two, and it would have fined Smith four games instead of suspending him four games. Tagliabue still would have faced a decision on Vilma's one-year suspension, which might have been reduced in exchange for Vilma dropping his defamation suit against commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL. Fujita's suspension previously was cut from three games to one game.
Vilma and Smith have been playing for the Saints during the appeal process. The one-week delay in Tagliabue's ruling likely will keep them in uniform for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fujita is on the Cleveland Browns' injured reserve list, while Hargrove is a free agent.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Monday that Tagliabue filed a letter with the U.S. District Court explaining why he didn't recuse himself from the case despite allegations that the former NFL commissioner faced a conflict of interest as the arbitrator.