AP Source: NFLPA hires lawyer for Saints bounties

The NFL Players Association told players involved in the New

Orleans Saints’ bounty case that there is a chance they could face

criminal charges and it hired outside counsel to represent them if

needed.

While Commissioner Roger Goodell weighs how to punish the two

dozen or so players the league says might be connected to the

bounties, the NFLPA also suggested that players have a lawyer and

union representative present when they are interviewed by NFL

investigators.

The union plans to head to New York this week to meet with

league security staff and review additional evidence, taking up the

NFL on an offer it made more than once.

The latest steps were described to The Associated Press on

Sunday by two people familiar with the case. They spoke on

condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The NFL has said that 22 to 27 defensive players were part of

the Saints’ pay-for-pain bounty pool, which awarded thousands of

dollars of cash bonuses from 2009-11 for vicious hits that knocked

targeted opponents out of games. One example, according to the

league: Linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any New

Orleans player who sidelined Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett

Favre during the 2010 NFC championship game.

On March 21, Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for all

of next season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games,

assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games, and former defensive

coordinator Gregg Williams for at least one season. Goodell also

fined the Saints $500,000 and took away two second-round draft

picks.

The appeals process is expected to begin this week.

When those punishments were announced, Goodell said he would

wait for NFLPA input before determining how to discipline players

who participated in the bounties.

”While I will not address player conduct at this time, I am

profoundly troubled by the fact that players – including leaders

among the defensive players – embraced this program so

enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a

deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow

players,” Goodell said.

The NFL has asked the union for contact information for players.

The NFLPA, meanwhile, was told by the league it could try to speak

to Payton, Loomis, Vitt and Williams.

The league has not given any timetable for when Goodell will

decide on penalties for the players, creating uncertainty for the

Saints – as well as other teams who might now have any of the

players involved.

Gabe Feldman, a law professor and director of the Tulane Sports

Law Program, said shortly after the NFL made its investigation

public that he didn’t expect any criminal or civil legal action

specifically tied to the bounties.

”They’re difficult cases to bring, because it’s hard to prove

the injury was caused by a tackle with specific intent to injure,

rather than a regular tackle,” Feldman explained at the time. ”We

all know injuries are a part of football. There can’t be legal

liability anytime there is an injury. Otherwise, you can’t have

football.”