NFL

Sources: Appeals aim for Goodell's recusal

10/12 5:03 PM

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has filed his appeal of the season-long suspension with an intriguing strategy.

All four players involved in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal have filed an appeal asking that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell remove himself from the case because he can't be impartial, sources told ESPN's Ed Werder.

Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove requested the recusal on the basis of bias and partiality, the sources said.

Vilma, suspended for the entire season, no doubt hopes U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan makes a favorable ruling in his defamation suit in federal court, which would supersede NFL rulings.

All four players are eligible to play or at least get paid until the NFL rules on their latest appeals. The new appeals hearings likely will take place a week from Tuesday, according to a source.

The deadline for appealing was the end of business Friday. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed Friday that all four players had filed appeals, but said the league would decline comment on the substance of those documents.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that Vilma expects to play Oct. 21 at Tampa Bay while his appeal is pending.

About a month ago, a three-member appeal panel created by the NFL's collective bargaining agreement vacated initial disciplinary rulings handed down by Goodell. Then Tuesday, the commissioner upheld his initial suspensions of Vilma and Smith and revised his suspensions of Cleveland linebacker and former Saint Fujita and Hargrove, who is a free agent.

Vilma has been on the Saints' physically unable to perform list while continuing his comeback from offseason surgery on his left knee, but may be activated after the first six weeks of the regular season. Goodell said Vilma could be paid for his time on New Orleans' PUP list. The Saints have a bye this week.

Vilma remains suspended for the season, while Smith remains suspended four games. Hargrove's suspension was reduced from eight to seven games, and Fujita's was cut from three games to one.

In effect, Hargrove now faces a two-game ban because his initial eight-game suspension was reduced by one and he was given credit for five games missed as a free agent after he was cut by Green Bay in the preseason.

The appeals filed Friday are only the latest of many maneuvers in a contentious back-and-forth involving the players, the NFL Players Association and the league office.

Vilma has a related defamation case pending against Goodell in federal court in New Orleans.

In addition, Vilma and the NFLPA, which is representing the other three players, could ask Berrigan to revisit their earlier legal challenge of the suspensions.

The union and Vilma would have to refile those requests with Berrigan, who placed the matter on indefinite hold when the three-member NFL appeal panel vacated the initial suspensions on technical grounds and informed Goodell that he had to clarify his basis for the punishment.

The panel, which did not address the merits of the investigation, said it needed to be clear that Goodell's disciplinary decisions in the Saints' cash-for-hits pool pertained exclusively to conduct detrimental to football, and not salary-cap violations, which would have to be handled by an arbitrator.

Berrigan has stated that she found the NFL's disciplinary process unfair and that she would be inclined to grant Vilma at least a temporary restraining order if she believed she had jurisdiction on the matter.

However, Berrigan also has stated that she is hesitant to rule until she is certain the players have exhausted all possible remedies available to them through the NFL's labor agreement. She has further stressed that all parties would be wise to settle the matter out of court, but a federal magistrate has had little success getting meaningful settlement talks moving.

The four players were implicated in what the NFL said was a bounty pool run by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents. The players have acknowledged a pool but denied they intended to injure anyone. Goodell has been unmoved by the players' distinction regarding intent, outlining several instances in which Williams made notations of player rewards due for hits that knocked opponents out of games.

Williams, now with St. Louis, has cooperated with the league's investigation but is currently suspended indefinitely. Saints coach Sean Payton is suspended for the season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games. They were punished separately from the players and all are serving out their punishment.

By contrast, the players and their union have put up intense resistance for the past half-year with no sign of letting up.

Even after his suspension was reduced this week, Fujita was harshly critical of Goodell, calling the "condescending tone" of his disciplinary letter unproductive, accusing the commissioner of misusing his power and questioning Goodell's record on player safety.

"The commissioner says he is disappointed in me," Fujita said Wednesday. "The truth is, I'm disappointed in him."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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