There remains no closure in sight to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that no timetable is set for final judgment on the appeals of four current and former Saints players to the suspensions that he levied. An arbitrator heard one appeal earlier this month; a second appeals hearing is set for May 30 in Philadelphia.
Saints linebacker Jon Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season because the league determined he helped ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams operate the bounty program between the 2009 and 2011 campaigns. Defensive end Anthony Hargrove, who is now with Green Bay, was suspended for eight games. Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games) and current Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three) also were punished.
Goodell did say that evidence from the bounty program existed will be released publicly at some point in the future. The league expressed initial reservations about doing so in an effort to protect witnesses who provided information.
Vilma feels so strongly that no such proof exists that he recently filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell in federal court. Fujita, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and the NFL Players Association are among those who have also cast doubts about the NFL’s claims.
“We’re in the midst of challenges on a variety of fronts with respect to the process of these appeals,” Goodell said. “As this plays out and it’s concluded how this process will go forward, we’ll certainly engage and make sure we’re fulfilling every aspect of that.”
Goodell refused to comment about Vilma’s lawsuit, which seeks his NFL reinstatement and unspecified financial damages. Goodell, though, did respond when asked whether he takes personally actions like Vilma’s or public criticism of his decisions by other players.
“I’ve been around this league for 30 years,” said Goodell, who was elected NFL commissioner in 2006. “You’re going to make decisions that are not going to be unanimous. It just doesn’t happen, particularly in a game where there’s a lot of emotion, a lot of passion. And there are different sides. You’ve got Saints fans on one side and 31 other teams (on the other). But what I have to do is in the best interest of the game long term.
“You don’t worry about a popularity contest. You can’t because you can’t make everybody happy on this.”
Asked whether he had ever second-guessed himself about the Saints’ punishments, Goodell said, “Sure, you second-guess yourself. That’s what the appeals process is for. You want to hear what the players have to say. Some of them indicated they wanted to come in and talk before the decision was made. I invited them in. They decided not to do that on the NFLPA’s recommendation. When we get to the appeals, we’ll be able to talk about it and hear from one another.”
Goodell denied the suspension appeals of Saints head coach Sean Payton (entire 2012 season), general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant/current interim head coach Joe Vitt (six games) in April. Williams, who was suspended indefinitely, did not appeal. The Saints organization also was fined $500,000 and stripped of 2012 and 2013 second-round draft picks.
Goodell has said the Saints could receive a lesser draft-pick punishment in 2013 depending on how well the team fares this season and no more bounty-related issues develop.
An NFL investigation claims the Saints ran a program that financially rewarded players for “knock-out” or “cart-off” hits during games. Vilma is alleged to have offered a $10,000 bounty to any Saints player that forced the departure of Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner or Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in playoff games in January 2010.
In other developments from the NFL’s spring meeting in Buckhead, Ga.:
1. Goodell said the fate of the Pro Bowl remains undecided but he hopes to make a decision “pretty quickly.” Goodell is in favor of canceling the all-star contest if the quality of competition doesn’t improve. Should the game get renewed, Goodell said Honolulu or New Orleans would host the week before Super Bowl XLVII.
2. As first reported by the Toronto Sun, the Buffalo Bills have renewed their agreement to hold one home game a year in Toronto through the 2017 season. Goodell said the league is hoping to hold more than one game in London during the 2013 season.
3. The NFL ultimately wants to provide wireless internet access at all stadiums so fans will have the ability to better use handheld communication devices and other PDAs. League-wide installation won’t be completed for the 2012 season, but Goodell said one or two teams may unveil their own wireless initiative. Goodell mentioned New Orleans, which is the host site of Super Bowl XLVII, as a possibility.