NFLPA slated to meet with league, review additional bounty findings
The NFLPA accepted an invite to meet with the league to review bounty findings
Roger Goodell has yet to discipline Saints' players without the NFLPA's input
However, it is evident that the players union is concerned with the league's power
The NFLPA has accepted the league's invitation to meet next week in New York to review additional confidential findings in the bounty scandal involving Saints coaches, management and players. However a source familiar with the situation said the union still might not recommend specific discipline for players allegedly involved in the illegal pay-to-injure program, even if there's concrete evidence they were involved.
"We haven't ruled out anything," said George Atallah, the NFLPA's assistant executive director for external affairs. "Right now we are focused on obtaining the right information and making sure players have a fair due process."
Commissioner Roger Goodell already has dropped the hammer on Saints management and coaches, suspending former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, coach Sean Payton for one season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games (each has appealed). However Goodell has yet to sanction any players because he wants input from NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.
The league asserts that 22 to 27 players participated in a program in which teammates were paid under the table for hits that resulted in an opponent being carted off the field or knocked from the game. Smith, in an interview with the union-affiliated website, proplayerinsiders.com, said Saturday he has questions about how the league has handled potential discipline for players.
"As of yet, they haven't turned over anything that we would consider to be direct evidence of player involvement in a 'pay to injure' scheme that we could consider for discipline," Smith said. "It's very hard to have a productive discussion about punishment when one side has kept, to itself, all the information. ... It's a very, at least from our perspective, unfair situation where you have a number of allegations floating back and forth in the press. There certainly appears to be some information that's been provided to the media about certain individuals' involvement and references to everything from e-mails to Powerpoints. It's difficult for those players to be in a situation where they can hardly defend themselves from unsubstantiated accusations that are being made in the public."
Goodell offered to meet with the union as early as March 2, when the league announced findings from the investigation that covered the 2009 to 2011 seasons. The union declined at the time so it could conduct its own investigation, which has had trouble getting untracked, in part because Payton, Loomis, Vitt, Williams and Mike Ornstein, a two-time felon who allegedly sent an e-mail to Payton offering to contribute to the bounty pool, have not responded to union requests for interviews.
The union has talked to some, but not all, of the players allegedly involved. Goodell has, too, although on Friday the NFLPA, with the backing of outside counsel, instructed the league to no longer interview players unless there was a union rep in attendance. It remains to be seen how much weight the edict carries because the collective bargaining agreement provides broad, sweeping powers to the commissioner under the "best interest of the game" umbrella.
While it is clear that players will be suspended and fined -- Goodell has the authority to do so even without a recommendation from the union -- it's also clear that this is the early rounds of a bigger fight. The union has great concerns about the disciplinary powers of the commissioner's office over issues such as the bounty scandal and performance enhancing drugs, and likely will fight to have an independent arbiter who'll oversee such matters in the future. Currently, appeals involving off-field issues are handled by the commissioner. From a player perspective, it has never made sense for cases to be appealed to the same person who handed out the initial punishment.