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Tagliabue overturns Goodell on Saints suspensions

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Tagliabue overturns Goodell on Saints suspensions

NEW ORLEANS (AP) In a sharp rebuke to his successor's handling of the NFL's bounty investigation, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in a case that has preoccupied the league for almost a year.

Tagliabue, who was appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeals, still found that three of the players engaged in conduct detrimental to the league. He said they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays - including hard tackles - that could merit fines. But he stressed that the team's coaches were very much involved.

``My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization,'' the ruling said.

Tagliabue oversaw a second round of player appeals to the league in connection with the cash-for-hits program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011. The players initially opposed his appointment.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had been given a full-season suspension, while defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove each received shorter suspensions.

Tagliabue cleared Fujita of conduct detrimental to the league.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees offered his thoughts on Twitter: ``Congratulations to our players for having the suspensions vacated. Unfortunately, there are some things that can never be taken back.''

None of the players sat out any games because of suspensions. They have been allowed to play while appeals are pending, though Fujita is on injured reserve and Hargrove is not with a team.

Shortly before the regular season, the initial suspensions were thrown out by an appeals panel created by the league's collective bargaining agreement. Goodell then reissued them, with some changes, and now those have been dismissed.

Now, with the player suspensions overturned, the end could be near for a nearly 10-month dispute over how the NFL handled an investigation that covered three seasons and gathered about 50,000 pages of documents.

``We respect Mr. Tagliabue's decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters,'' the NFL said in a statement.

``The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the (NFL's collective bargaining agreement) to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football.''

Meanwhile, the players have challenged the NFL's handling of the entire process in federal court, but U.S District Judge Ginger Berrigan had been waiting for the latest round of appeals to play out before deciding whether to get involved.

NFL investigators found that Vilma and Smith were ring leaders of a cash-for-hits program that rewarded injurious tackles labeled as ``cart-offs'' and ``knockouts.'' The NFL also concluded that Hargrove lied to NFL investigators to help cover up the program.

Goodell also suspended Williams indefinitely, while banning Saints head coach Sean Payton for a full season.

Tagliabue's ruling comes after a new round of hearings that for the first time allowed Vilma's attorneys and the NFL Players Association, which represents the other three players, to cross-examine key NFL witnesses. Those witnesses included Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo, who was fired after the 2009 season and whose email to the league, accusing the Saints of being ``a dirty organization,'' jump-started the probe.

``We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result,'' the players' union said in a statement. ``We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program.

``Vacating all discipline affirms the players' unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged `intent-to-injure' were utterly and completely false.

``We are happy for our members.''

A statement released on Vilma's behalf said the linebacker is ``relieved and gratified that Jonathan no longer needs to worry about facing an unjustified suspension.

``On the other hand, Commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of Commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan. Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day.''

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Hayden Hurst now 'questionable' for training camp

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Hayden Hurst now 'questionable' for training camp

Kick off your Wednesday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. A hamstring injury has left tight end Hayden Hurst 'questionable' to participate in training camp, according to Rotoworld. Hurst had hamstring issues previously but returned to practice. Last season, Hurst missed four games following foot surgery.

2. On "Good Morning Football," Maurice Jones-Drew called Earl Thomas the new Ed Reed. Jones-Drew says Thomas will have the biggest defensive impact on his new spot with the Ravens.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. ET deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens and Rotoworld for news points.

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One analyst sees Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice having to split carries as a 'potential problem'

One analyst sees Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice having to split carries as a 'potential problem'

In theory, Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice working out of the same backfield should be an enormous boost for the Redskins this season.

In theory, Peterson's presence should allow Guice to slowly ease his way into the NFL during Washington's early contests, and in theory, Guice's availability should help Peterson stay fresher for 16 games since he won't have to be the one handling every carry.

But NBC Sports and Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio doesn't exactly see the 'Skins' running back situation playing out so peacefully. The NFL isn't a third grade classroom; sharing isn't always caring.

"This is going to be a potential problem for the team because Adrian Peterson is not accustomed to giving up touches," Florio recently told NBC Sports Washington.

"When he was in New Orleans for not very long in 2017, he realized he wasn't getting the ball the way that he did in Minnesota," he continued. "He wanted the ball, he ended up being traded to Arizona where they had an injury need that made him the guy. Last year an injury need in Washington made him the guy."

Of the team's 339 rushing attempts by non-quarterbacks in 2018, Peterson was responsible for 251 of them. That means he was shouldered with 74-percent of the overall workload. 

During mandatory minicamp in early June, position coach Randy Jordan laid out his preferred ratio for Peterson and Guice now that they're together. What he wants sounds a lot more even than how last season's breakdown ended up looking.

“They are both different, but they are both explosive,” he said. “The thing is ideally you would like to see a 50/50, 60/40 [split]." 

Florio, however, is wary of how that could upset the future Hall of Famer.

"He wants to be the guy," Florio said. "Derrius Guice is going to — if he plays like he did before we saw that ACL tear last year — he's going to potentially eat into those touches and Adrian Peterson will not be happy about it and he will not be bashful about saying so."

While at the Ashburn podium following an offseason practice, Jay Gruden admitted that Peterson seems like a player who improves as his usage increases, but he ultimately explained he doesn't believe fewer carries will hurt Peterson. And you'd love to believe him.

Many offenses have thrived using multiple options on the ground, and it's an approach you're seeing more and more in pro football. Peterson and Guice can attack defenses in different ways, they have different strengths and they could each ease the burden on one another along with Chris Thompson, who you can't forget about.

Yet these are also two threats who are used to being the primary piece of their units. They're used to 20-plus touches and finding their rhythm at their own pace. So while Gruden, his staff and Redskins fans are focusing on the positive possibilities of a Peterson-Guice duo, Florio is less bullish.

"The more touches Guice gets, the more frustrated Peterson will be, because he knows he's only got so many years left to play football," Florio said. "He wants to get as many carries, as many yards as possible as he climbs higher and higher up the all-time rushing list. That's going to be a challenge for the team in 2019."

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