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“Phase Two” of bounty case will have a StarCaps feel, initially

Carolina Panthers v Minnesota Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 21: Pat Williams #94 and Kevin Williams #93 of the Minnesota Vikings look on against the Carolina Panthers during their NFL game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on September 21, 2008 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Panthers 20-10. (Photo by David Sherman/Getty Images)

David Sherman

To best understand what will happen after Commissioner Roger Goodell issues his final ruling on appeals filed by four players suspended in connection with the Saints bounty program, it’s important to reflect back on a case primarily involving four other players and an over-the-counter weight-loss supplement that worked so well because it had been spiked with a prescription diuretic.

The product was StarCaps, and Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams and a trio of Saints, defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant and running back Deuce McAllister, sued after the league upheld their four-game suspensions. Though the StarCaps suspensions and the bounty suspensions arise from completely different facts -- and flow from completely different policies -- the opening attacks will be the same.

As in StarCaps, we’re told that the players will, once what Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma calls “Phase Two” begins, seek a so-called “preliminary injunction,” which if granted will block the league from implementing the suspensions until the lawsuits are resolved.

The players ultimately lost the StarCaps case, but they won the ability to delay the suspensions until the conclusion of the litigation. For Pat Williams, Charles Grant, and Deuce McAllister, it meant that they never had to serve the suspensions because they both were out of the league when the litigation ended.

And so, once Vilma and Smith (for whom it’s déjà vu all over again) and Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita lose their appeals (and it would be a shock if they don’t), they’ll seek a preliminary injunction delaying the suspensions.

Then, terms like “irreparable harm” and “likelihood of success on the merits” and “balancing of hardships” will re-enter the NFL lexicon. And if the players in the bounty case can have the same success the players had in the StarCaps case, the suspensions will be delayed, regardless of whether they are ultimately lifted.

That said, the bounty litigation likely will move more quickly than the StarCaps case, which was fueled by a Minnesota drug-testing law. In this case, the question is whether the outcome of the NFL’s in-house arbitration process should be respected, not whether there’s an obscure state or federal law that short-circuits the process.

Even though the bounty litigation should move quickly, the players will undoubtedly appeal if they lose, and if the preliminary injunction remains in force on appeal, the players could end up having their suspensions blocked for most if not all of the 2012 season.