Redskins

Tagliabue expects to rule on bounties by December

Tagliabue expects to rule on bounties by December

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue plans to complete all hearings in the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints by Dec. 4 and make a ruling shortly after.

Such timing potentially could be disruptive for the Saints, who could lose starting defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma while trying to claw back into playoff contention.

In a document obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Tagliabue directs the NFL to produce key witnesses in the New Orleans Saints' cash-for-hits program, including former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo.

Four players initially were suspended, but those punishments were vacated. Commissioner Roger Goodell re-issued the suspensions with some modifications, and when the players appealed again, Goodell appointed Tagliabue to oversee the new hearings. Vilma and Smith are still playing pending the outcomes of their appeals.

Smith said he was pleased with Tagliabue's decision to hold the NFL responsible for producing witnesses who helped with the league's investigation.

``The most important thing is that Gregg Williams and those other guys are going to have to testify and be cross-examined,'' Smith said. ``We'll see if their story stays the same.''

Even as Tagliabue moves the process forward, a federal judge is still considering arguments by players that Tagliabue should be removed as arbitrator because he is biased in favor of the NFL. Based on the schedule laid out by Tagliabue, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan could choose to rule as early as next week.

Smith said he was ``not concerned'' about the NFL's timeline calling for a decision before the season ends, adding, ``Whatever happens, happens. I don't think I'll be surprised.''

Vilma was not in the Saints' locker room while it was open to reporters.

For now, only Williams, Cerullo, Vilma, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, NFL chief security officer Jeff Miller are the only scheduled witnesses.

They are scheduled to appear in a series of hearings in Washington D.C. running from Tuesday through Dec. 4. That means Vilma and Smith likely will be available at least for the Saints' next two games against San Francisco this Sunday and at Atlanta on Nov. 29. They could also play at the New York Giants on Dec. 9.

Vitt said after Wednesday's practice that he did not know anything about Tagliabue's schedule and declined comment, saying he's focused on getting ready for the 49ers.

Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said the Saints cannot afford to be distracted by the possibility that they will lose Vilma and Smith late in the season, but he did not diminish the importance of the two players to the Saints' defense.

``These guys have been here for years and they're kind of like the foundation of this team,'' Lofton said. ``So having those guys being able to play has mentally and physically been a boost to this defense and it's great to have those guys out there.''

None of the players have served a game of their suspensions yet, though Vilma was barred from attending Saints training camp before Goodell's initial rulings were vacated during Week 1 of the regular season.

Vilma initially was suspended the entire 2012 season and Smith for four games.

The two other players punished are former Saints: Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, who is now on injured reserve, and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove initially was suspended eight games, but that later was reduced to seven with credit given for the first five games he missed as a free agent. Fujita initially was suspended three games and that was later reduced to one game.

Facing resistance from the NFL Players Association and lawyers separately representing Vilma, who had argued that Goodell could not be objective, the commissioner removed himself as arbitrator in the bounty matter and appointed Tagliabue, his predecessor, in his place on Oct. 19.

Tagliabue noted in his most recent memo that other witnesses could be scheduled. Tagliabue also said he expects to decide by Monday whether to allow the Saints' personnel file on Cerullo to be included as evidence.

Players have argued that Cerullo was the NFL's primary source of information about the Saints' performance pool. They've also argued that Cerullo's credibility is in question because he was fired by the club after the 2009-10 season and he had accused the club of preventing him from getting a job on another NFL coaching staff.

The NFL investigation concluded that Saints players were rewarded for hits that knocked targeted opposing players out of games from 2009-2011. The league said there was evidence that the Saints placed bounties on star quarterbacks including Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers.

Saints players and coaches have acknowledged they had a pool that paid rewards for big plays including interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks and big hits, similar to programs other teams have had across the league for generations. However, they say no one ever intended to injure an opposing player.

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Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

ESPN Fantasy Football expert Matthew Berry was at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere last weekend in Los Angeles, where he got the chance to interview the three Redskins rookies in attendance: Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, and Bryce Love. 

Berry, who was a guest of JP Finlay's on the Redskins Talk podcast on Thursday, has been a fan of the Burgundy and Gold since he was a kid, so he was eager to talk to three of the team's newest players and learn more about them.

It was during those interviews where Berry got a quick glimpse of a side of Haskins that now has Berry really excited.

"I thought what was really cool was... When I was interviewing McLaurin, Dwayne Haskins came in and interrupted the interview to give him some crap," he told Finlay. "It was really a wonderful moment to see. Obviously, they know each other very well from Ohio State, but just the fact that they felt comfortable enough and he wanted to come over and mess with him a little bit and have some fun, I was impressed with that."

Once Haskins left, Berry explained how he asked McLaurin about the interaction. Redskins fans will like McLaurin's answer.

"That's Dwayne, Dwayne is being a leader," McLaurin said, per Berry. 

Haskins did something similar to Love during Love's interview as well. Berry even caught up with Colts receiver Parris Campbell, who also played with the QB at Ohio State, to inquire about the 15th overall pick. 

"I asked him, 'Listen, I'm a diehard Redskins fan, what am I getting?'" Berry said. "He couldn't have been more effusive. 'You're not only getting a guy who puts the ball where you want it, but you're getting a leader. You're getting a guy who makes sure everyone in the huddle is included.'"

You can be skeptical of how much these little moments mean, and that's fair. Ultimately, how quickly Haskins picks up Jay Gruden's playbook and how accurate his arm turns out to be will factor more into his success in the NFL than being able to joke around a bit with some of his guys.

But you can also hope that these little moments are hints of a bigger personality and approach, a look into an athlete who can get a football team to buy into him. That's the side Berry is on.

"I thought that was really cool, and just showed somebody who's very comfortable in the leadership position and who's trying to be inclusive of everyone," he said. "It's early in the process, but I have yet to hear somebody on or off the record say something bad about Dwayne Haskins."

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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

For Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, last season's heartbreak in the WNBA Finals is only fuel for another potential postseason run in 2019. 

"That's something I don't think I'll ever let go," Washington's star forward told Chris Miller on the latest episode of the Wizards Talk podcast. "It's always tough when you get to that Finals and you can't finish it off. But I think it's something that can fuel you. You don't want to let it just bring you down and depress you and make it so you can't get over that hump."

"If you use it as fuel and motivation, it can help you get better. I think that's what we're all gonna do."

The Mystics reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history in 2018 but ultimately lost to the Seattle Storm. Delle Donne, recently named in WNBA.com's GM survey as the favorite to win league MVP, is back for her third season in Washington and headlines a strong team that has the talent to compete for the title again.

Her status for Saturday's season opener against the Connecticut Sun is up in the air due to a left knee injury, but Delle Donne believes the Mystics will have another great season given the continuity on the roster from last season and the return of All-Star forward Emma Meesseman. 

"We feel great. We've got our core back," said Delle Donne. "And to be able to add a superstar like Emma to that roster is pretty scary. Especially with her style of play and the way that our team started playing last season, where it was such positionless basketball. Spreading the floor, just spreading it, making it easy for one another to attack, get some threes. She's just gonna add so much to that."

NBC Sports Washington will be broadcasting 10 Mystics home games during the 2019 WNBA season. For the full regular season schedule, click here.

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