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Column: Tagliabue shows Goodell how it's done

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Column: Tagliabue shows Goodell how it's done

``Round up the usual suspects.''

Funny how that line near the end of ``Casablanca'' provides a fitting epitaph for Bountygate, too. Like Capt. Renault in the film classic, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was presented with a crime and empowered as both judge and jury. He considered the evidence, weighed the injury to the parties involved, then concluded - conveniently - that no further action was required. Justice had already been served.

Tagliabue's reasoning was torturous, but the result was fair. He decided the two Saints players who took part in cash-for-hits program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011, and a third who assisted in trying to cover it up, had suffered enough, commuting the suspensions to time served and erased their fines. And he cleared Scott Fujita, who'd maintained his innocence all along.

Just as important, Tagliabue affirmed current Commissioner Roger Goodell's findings of fact in the case, even if he didn't agree with the ham-handed way the punishments were doled out. Tagliabue knew his successor didn't need any more challenges to his reputation or authority at the moment, not with back-to-back tragedies casting a shadow over the league's last two weekends and concussion-related lawsuits piling up outside the door to his office. Most important, Tagliabue knew the people at the top of the Saints organization who were responsible for the bounty scheme - general manager Mickey Loomis, coach Sean Peyton, Williams and several others; in this case, ``the usual suspects'' - were already serving time, banished from the league for varying lengths of time and slapped with heavy fines.

Goodell isn't completely in the clear, either. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whom Goodell hit the hardest, said Tuesday he would press ahead his defamation lawsuit against the commissioner, which only seems fair. I wrote back in May that Goodell ``better have the goods,'' and that ``somewhere in the 50,000 pages of documents related to the Saints bounty program better be some compelling evidence that it was much more organized and way more vicious than anything the NFL had ever seen. Otherwise, the punishment he's doled out already has exceeded the crime.''

What Williams did wasn't all that different from what coaches have been doing since football was invented. He just kept better records, bragged about it too often and loudly, and despite repeated warnings, his bosses in the locker room and the front office didn't see fit to shut it down. About the fourth or fifth time Williams handed out cash for big hits, or launched into one of his ``kill the head'' pep talks, it was only natural to assume that was the company policy. That the players ``just sat and nodded at Williams instead of calling a crisis intervention hotline,'' as one writer put it, ``was not grounds to take away their livelihood for long periods of time.''

Tagliabue agreed. But with Goodell facing an increasingly rebellious players' union in just the second year of a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, his predecessor saw no reason to limit the commissioner's discretionary powers.

``To be clear: this case should not be considered a precedent for whether similar behavior in the future merits player suspensions or fines,'' his ruling said.

Tagliabue also concurred that the Saints organization deserved to be punished severely, and had been. Not just for allowing Williams to rant on and run and his little ``performance'' pool unchecked for several seasons, but for trying to impede the league's investigation at every turn along the way. Unlike his players, Williams' bosses quit fighting and fessed up. Bet they wish now, like the players, they had a union, too.

The surprise here isn't Tagliabue's decision. It was clear months ago, despite selective excerpts from the league's voluminous files, that Goodell didn't have the goods to take the unilateral actions he did. And that was only reinforced by the sham of an appeals process that wound its way back to his desk. The real surprise, ultimately, is that Tagliabue got to decide the case at all.

Goodell agreed to an appeal of the appeal with considerable reluctance, likely thinking that if anyone would understand his rationale, it would the guy who once sat in the same seat. The union initially opposed Tagliabue's selection for that very reason, fearing he was too invested in the league's business to be a fair arbiter. Turns out they both got it wrong.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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Capitals deal Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik ahead of the draft

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals deal Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik ahead of the draft

DALLAS—The Capitals have dealt backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round pick, the team announced shortly before the NHL Draft kicked off Friday at American Airlines Center.

GM Brian MacLellan was widely expected to deal Grubauer, a 26-year-old who wanted the opportunity to be a No. 1. As a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who was also coming off a strong season, Grubauer was due a significant raise.

“We would like to thank Brooks and Philipp for all of their contributions to our organization,” MacLellan said in a statement. “Philipp has been a consummate professional and a great teammate and we wish him all the best.”

Trading Orpik, on the other hand, was a bit unexpected, particularly considering how much 37-year-old’s play and leadership meant to the Caps during their run to the Stanley Cup.

By dealing Orpik, MacLellan shed the 37-year-old’s $5.5 million cap hit for next season—an important development given the Caps’ tight salary cap situation and the number of key players who need new contracts. John Carlson, Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek are unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Avalanche are expected to help Orpik land or a preferred spot, whether via trade or buyout. By taking on Orpik in the deal, Friedman reported, the Avs only had to give up one pick.

“Brooks,” MacLellan continued, “was a great leader and a tremendous role model for our young players in his four years with our organization. This was a difficult move, but the one we felt we needed to make in order to give some flexibility moving forward.”

Will moving out Grubauer and eliminating Orpik’s cap charge allow MacLellan to re-sign Carlson, who's set to become the top defenseman on the free agent market? That’s unclear—even with the salary cap ceiling going up to $79.5 million—but it sure helps the Caps’ cause.

Dealing Orpik also opens up a spot for a young and inexpensive defenseman such as Christian Djoos or Madison Bowey to take on a bigger role in 2018-19.

Without Grubauer, the Caps are likely to turn to Pheonix Copley as their backup next season. And if Copley, who is due to earn the NHL minimum of $650,000 next season, starts the year in Washington, that allows 2015 first round pick Ilya Samsonov to take the reins in Hershey.

The second round pick the Caps received in exchange for Grubauer and Orpik is the 47th overall selection.

MacLellan is expected to speak to reporters following the first round later Friday night. The Caps currently hold the 31st overall pick.

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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