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Commissioner Goodell re-issues bounty discipline

Commissioner Goodell re-issues bounty discipline

NEW ORLEANS (AP) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith on Tuesday for their role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and reduced penalties for Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.

Though an appeal panel created by the NFL's labor agreement vacated the original suspensions on technical grounds, Goodell ruled he was sticking with his decision to suspend Vilma for the season and Smith for four games.

Hargrove, a free agent defensive lineman, will face a two-game suspension once he signs with a team. He originally was hit with eight games, but that was reduced to seven with five games already served. Fujita, who plays for Cleveland, will now miss only one game instead of three.

The responses of Vilma, Smith and the NFL Players Association left little doubt that the seven-month-old bounty saga is far from over.

Vilma said on Twitter that the new ruling ``this is not news to me pride won't let him admit he's wrong.'' Smith issued a statement saying he will continue to explore his appeal options.

Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said in a statement that Goodell's new ruling ``continues his previous grossly misplaced interpretation of the `evidence.' What the Commissioner did today is not justice, nor just. The suspension has the fingerprints of lawyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.''

The 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.

The players can delay their suspensions by appealing again through their labor contract, which they have three days to do. They could also ask a federal judge in New Orleans to revisit their earlier request for an injunction blocking the suspensions.

Goodell, meanwhile, stood by the substance of the investigation began when allegations were first brought to the league's attention three seasons ago.

``The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental (to the game) are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases,'' Goodell said in a memorandum to the 32 clubs.

Goodell's new ruling comes about a month after an appeal panel vacated the original suspensions on technical grounds during Week 1 of the regular season. The panel did not address the merits of the league's investigation. It merely asked Goodell to clarify to extent to which his ruling involved conduct detrimental to the league, which he has the sole authority to handle, and salary cap violations resulting from bonus payments, which would have to be ruled upon by an arbitrator other than the commissioner.

``In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story,'' Goodell wrote. ``In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for `cart-offs,' that players were encouraged to `crank up the John Deere tractor' and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play.''

Only Smith and Fujita have played this season. Vilma has been recovering from offseason knee surgery and hopes to return in two weeks when the Saints play at Tampa Bay. The Saints linebacker is on the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks of the season and Goodell's new ruling said that Vilma can be paid for that period.

Smith issued a statement after the new rulings were announced.

``I remain frustrated with the continued unilateral rulings by this commissioner as he continues to disregard the facts and assault my character,'' Smith said in the statement. ``Let me be clear- I never participated in a `pay-to-injure program,' never took the field with intent to injure another player, and never contributed any money to hurt other players. It was my hope that those investigating would put their arrogance and agenda aside in order to comprehend the difference between a `pay-for-performance program' and a `pay-to-injure program,' but until that day, I will continue to pursue my appeal options through the NFLPA, and attempt to return to work for my family, teammates, fans and the city of New Orleans.''

The NFLPA also remained critical of Goodell's decision to punish the players and the process by which he reached his decisions.

``For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever,'' the said in a written statement. ``The only evidence that exists is the League's gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league's refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake.''

The players initially declined to meet with Goodell before he made his initial disciplinary rulings in early May or during the first appeal process that lasted until the first week of the regular season.

Goodell began to reconsider his disciplinary actions after the Sept. 7 appeal panel ruling and this time all four players agreed to meet with him. During those meetings the NFL produced sworn declarations by Williams and another former defensive assistant, Mike Cerullo, in which they stated that they observed Vilma offering what they believed were $10,000 rewards for knocking then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of 2009-10 playoff games.

Ginsberg, however, said Cerullo's and Williams' sworn statements are not credible because they conflict with one another. Ginsberg noted that Cerullo swore he gave Vilma's $10,000 to Williams after the Warner bounty was not ``earned,'' while Williams swore he never received money from Cerullo. Ginsberg also said the commissioner ignored the sworn testimony in federal court of several current and former teammates who denied the league's accusations against Vilma.

``Commissioner Goodell has further damaged Jonathan's reputation, compromised his career, and cast an unfair cloud over a fine and decent man,'' Ginsberg said. ``It is unfortunate that the process exhibited by the NFL has had no decency.''

While Ginsberg did not immediately say whether he would take the matter back to federal court, Vilma has indicated he would be inclined to do so. U.S. District Judge Ginger 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 collective bargaining agreement.

The other three players have been represented by the NFLPA, which stated it will carefully review Goodell's latest decision and ``protect our players' rights with vigilance,'' but did not disclose any immediate plans to take the matter back to court.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

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JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 27, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Here is my sunrise view from this morning:

Looking at next year’s free agents

This post was originally published on March 18. 

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens. 

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard). 

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility. 

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon. 

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup. 

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight. 

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler