Redskins

Vilma, NFLPA take bounty matter back to court

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Vilma, NFLPA take bounty matter back to court

NEW ORLEANS (AP) If the Saints decide Jonathan Vilma is ready, the embattled linebacker will take the field in Tampa Bay on Sunday for the first time this season.

It might also be the last time, depending on how things go at NFL headquarters and in federal court.

On Monday, Vilma again asked a federal judge to overturn his recently re-issued suspension in the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints, and the NFL Players Association made a similar request on behalf of three other players.

None of the four players' suspensions are currently being enforced, but that could change as early as next week. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has scheduled the players' appeal hearings for Oct. 23.

The players want U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to begin considering their cases now so she may be ready to rule by the time the NFL's appeal's process concludes.

Vilma's latest filing said Goodell conducted a ``farcical review'' of his previously overturned disciplinary action before ruling last week that the Saints linebacker would remain suspended for the season.

The NFL did not immediately respond to requests for comment, deferring instead to its legal response which is due in federal court Wednesday.

Vilma is facing the longest suspension of four players punished in connection with what the NFL has said was a pool that rewarded Saints players with improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.

Saints defensive end Will Smith was docked four games, free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove seven games and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita one game. Vilma's and Smith's suspensions remain unchanged from what Goodell initially handed down. Hargrove's suspension was reduced by one game and he was given credit for five games missed as a free agent. Fujita's ban was reduced from three games.

The NFL Players Association is representing Smith, Hargrove and Fujita. Vilma has his own lawyers, Peter Ginsberg and Duke Williams.

The players said Goodell has continued to abuse his power and demonstrate bias, leaving no hope for a fair process that would respect their ``industrial due process rights.''

They also asked Berrigan to bar Goodell from handling any further action in the bounty matter and appoint a neutral arbitrator.

``The commissioner of a professional sports league is not exempt from the requirement that he or she be impartial when serving as an arbitrator, and courts vacate arbitration awards when a commissioner falls short of the required standard of impartiality in considering a particular matter,'' Vilma's new legal papers said.

In the meantime, Vilma is eligible to return to the Saints' lineup.

The linebacker has been on the club's physically unable to perform list since shortly after his initial suspension was overturned by an NFL appeal panel on Sept. 7, but now that the first six weeks of the season have passed, the Saints could activate him as early as Tuesday.

While Saints coaches declined to confirm such plans, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said it was his understanding Vilma will ``be able to practice on Wednesday, which I think is a great thing for our football team and our defense.''

Curtis Lofton has taken over Vilma's middle linebacker spot, but Spagnuolo said there is room in the lineup for both.

``Let's get them out there, practice and get ready with the one focus being figuring out what's best to help our team beat Tampa Bay,'' Spagnuolo said. ``That will be the No. 1 focus this week with nothing else in sight other than that.''

Fellow linebacker Scott Shanle said it would be difficult for a player to adjust to the Saints' new defense in one week of practice, but added that Vilma might be an exception.

``In the 10 years I've played he's the smartest linebacker I've played with,'' Shanle said. ``It was talked about a lot after the (2010) Super Bowl that it was Peyton Manning and Jonathan Vilma in an audible contest and Vilma consistently won, and our coaches always had that trust in him. So when you can get a player like that back, it's a huge boost.''

Of course, if the Saints do get Vilma back on the field this weekend, they could still lose him next week.

All four players punished in the bounty probe have asked Goodell to recuse himself from the NFL appeals process, but he has so far refused.

The NFLPA pointed out in its latest motion that although Goodell was given the power in the league's current labor agreement to discipline players for conduct detrimental to football, he may only do so if he complies with ``governing legal standards.''

The union said Goodell violated those standards by talking publicly about the players' alleged wrongdoing before the disciplinary process began, and by failing to consider conflicting witness testimony or mischaracterizations of evidence by league investigators.

``It is startling that the Commissioner has damaged the careers and reputations of the Players on such scant, contradictory and incredible sources,'' the NFLPA said.

A three-member appeals created by the NFL's labor agreement vacated the initial suspensions on Sept. 7 and told Goodell he needed to clarify the basis for his rulings. The panel noted that punishments should not have anything to do with cash paid out of the Saints' pay-for-performance pool, because an arbitrator other than the commissioner is supposed to handle such salary cap violations.

The latest legal filings point out that Goodell repeatedly mentioned pay-for-performance allegations as part of the basis for the initial punishment, and that the commissioner's decision to maintain similar suspensions highlights the lack of fairness in the process.

Saints coaches and players have acknowledged the existence of a pool that both fined players for penalties and offered rewards for big plays, including big, non-penalized hits that may have resulted in opposing players leaving games for a play or longer.

Goodell has stated that in their acknowledgement of the pool, the Saints have admitted they encouraged hits that were shown to have injured opponents. Regardless of intent, Goodell said, such a program is intolerable because it sends the message that hits that hurt opponents deserve a reward, and that can affect how players on team approach subsequent games.

Vilma and the NFLPA initially filed suit in July, but the matter was placed on hold when the NFL appeal panel vacated the initial player suspensions on technical grounds and the disciplinary phase started over.

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Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

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NBC Sports Washington

Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

I haven’t felt this way since my father passed last April. I’m not comparing the two, at all, but there were some similarities. Rich Tandler had life experience. Few people accomplish what he did; total life reinvention.

Think about that. After raising his two successful children and a lifetime in the restaurant business, Tandler created a blog. That blog became big enough to eventually become a full-time job, and over time, put him on television and send him all over the world.

That’s wild.

We get so caught up in the “startups” and “disruptors” from Silicon Valley that we missed a true internet success story in Rich Tandler. Our world has become extra cynical. The loudest snark wins, especially on the internet.

Tandler didn’t trade in those currencies. He provided good, quality information. He provided insight and analysis from six decades of obsessing over a football team. And fans loved him for it. The outpouring from folks that read "Need to Know" or listened to the podcast has been incredible. I’ve been flooded with messages from people, and one overwhelming response is that while they didn’t really know Tandler, they feel like they did.
Well, I was lucky to know him pretty well. And his persona on air was the same way off air.

Tandler helped me a in a lot of ways. I can be impulsive and have a temper, Tandler would calm me down. Whenever I had something important to say, news to break or a sharp angle of criticism, I would run in by Tandler first. Sometimes, maybe often, I would say too much, and he would reign me in.

Tandler loved pointing out mistakes. If the universe gave honorary degrees for pointing out minor math errors in salary cap blog posts, Tandler would have a Ph.D. He was smart and he was sharp. Good natured but feisty. He could dish it out plenty in a media room full of alphas. And he literally dished it out; Tandler controlled all the plastic utensils and paper plates that every media member used at Redskins Park. When we were running low on forks, Tandler would put out some not too subtle calls to action.

I think for a while he considered the podcast an annoyance, but somewhere along the way, we had a breakthrough. He realized its potential, and everywhere we went, listeners came up and told us how much they enjoyed it. That made an impact on RT. And seemingly overnight, he was all in. That’s when things really started to gain steam. Wherever I am in my career, Tandler played a huge role in it.

But that kind of doesn’t matter now. We will keep the pod going but it will never be the same. Not better, not worse, but way, way different. Same thing with writing and TV. The show will go on, but it won't be the same. It will never be the same.

In the hours since I learned of Tandler’s passing, I’ve done some reading. I drank a bunch. And I ended up landing on some YouTube videos. The one I kept going back to was Jimmy V’s famous ESPY speech. Before he died, Jimmy V implored us all to think, laugh and cry every day, and that would lead to a good, full life. If there was ever a dude that laughed, it was Rich Tandler. His belly laugh was contagious, and his wit was superior. There were the wacky Tandler’s Got Jokes, and the sly one liners about players, plays and our road antics.

It wasn’t all laughter.

Tandler was smart as hell, and he was always thinking about new ways to present content for Redskins fans. Seriously, our organization employs an army of young and talented digital-first thinkers. And Tandler generated more web traffic than all of them. He constantly tried to figure out why people would read something, or the optimal time for us to drop a new podcast.

Where I’m an idea guy, Tandler was all execution. I’m a terrible planner and constantly late. Tandler would be on time and busting my chops about our lack of schedule. It’s just how we operated.

As for crying, Tandler wasn’t much of one. I did see him tear up from laughing a few times, and once because it was real windy when we were taping a segment and something got in his eye.

I’m not much of a crier either. I’m glad that Jimmy V was, but it’s just not me. Thinking about Tandler though in the last 36 hours, there have been some truly hard moments. He was kind and gracious. A true gentleman. He never took personal shots at the team we cover, or their front office. Plenty do. He would certainly say when things were bad, and say it loudly. He was binary in a world full of context. He was a good dude. He was my coworker, my partner and my friend.

And damn if it isn’t getting dusty in here all of a sudden. 

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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