An arbitrator ruled Monday that commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to discipline Saints players for their role in a bounty system.
The NFL Players Association challenged Goodell’s power to impose penalties for what the league says was a three-year bounty program that targeted specific players. Stephen Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, took only five days to determine that Goodell has the power to punish the players under the collective bargaining agreement reached last August to end the lockout.
Goodell suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season and teammate Will Smith for four games. Former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was suspended for eight games, while linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, was docked three games.
Those players have appealed the suspensions. The players’ union later Monday said it will appeal Burbank’s decision because it believes salary-cap violations are involved in the payment. That would give Burbank the authority to rule on penalizing any players involved.
Burbank did, however, retain temporary jurisdiction on Hargrove’s role and asked Goodell for more information on Hargrove’s “alleged participation.’’
Burbank “invited the commissioner to clarify the precise basis for his discipline of Mr. Hargrove who, among other things, was found to have lied to the league’s investigators and obstructed their investigation,’’ the NFL said in a statement.
The union said in a statement it “believes that the players are entitled to neutral arbitration of these issues under the CBA and will continue to fight for that principle and to protect the fair due process rights of all players.’’
The NFLPA noted Burbank wrote that “nothing in this opinion is intended to convey a view about the underlying facts or the appropriateness of the discipline imposed.’’
The union filed another grievance with a different arbitrator, Shyam Das, contending the new CBA prohibits Goodell from punishing players for any conduct before the CBA was signed. The league’s investigation showed the bounty program ran from 2009-11.
Vilma has sued Goodell for defamation in US District Court in New Orleans and Goodell has until July 5 to respond to the action.
The players also have sued the league in US District Court in Minnesota, saying the owners colluded in the uncapped 2010 season to have a secret salary cap. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has said such collusion could have cost players $1 billion in wages.
Refs’ talks dead
The league will start hiring and training possible replacement officials with a deal not yet completed with the NFL Referees Association. Talks between the league and the officials broke down after two mediation sessions that followed nine bargaining negotiations since October. Both sides have said they expect a new collective bargaining agreement in time for the upcoming season. But that optimism has disappeared. A session was held Sunday under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and the NFLRA said the league “terminated negotiations’’ on Monday. The league said new demands made by the officials led to the end of talks.
Blackmon in court
Jaguars first-round draft pick Justin Blackmon appeared in a Stillwater, Okla., courtroom for the first time since his weekend arrest for suspicion of drunken driving. The former Oklahoma State star wide receiver’s attorney entered a not guilty plea for him to a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence. Blackmon was allowed to remain free on $1,000 bond. Police arrested Blackmon during a traffic stop in Stillwater early Sunday after a Breathalyzer test allegedly showed his blood alcohol content to be three times the legal limit . . . The annual contract drama that surrounded Osi Umenyiora before the Giants defensive end signed a restructured contract Friday appeared well in the past during his first field session organized team activity. He took drills with his defensive linemates, looking fit and ready. After that, he said he held no ill will toward general manager Jerry Reese for having to settle for a one-year salary jump to $7 million, after which he will become eligible for unrestricted free agency should the Giants not give him the franchise tag. “It’s a business. Whatever they say about the NFL, is true,’’ Umenyiora said . . . Raiders fullback Marcel Reece signed his exclusive rights tender . . . The Cowboys signed punter Delbert Alvarado, three days after punter/kicker Jake Rogers was released. Mat McBriar, the team’s Pro Bowl punter, is a free agent and is rehabilitating after surgery in February to remove a cyst below his left knee . . . The Dolphins signed running back Lamar Miller, their fourth-round draft pick . . . The Buccaneers signed first-round pick Doug Martin to a five-year contract. The Boise State running back was the 31st selection in the draft and is expected to share the workload with third-year pro LeGarrette Blount.