Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will rule today on the latest round of player appeals in the NFLs bounty investigation, and any potential punishment will be delayed by a week, a person familiar with the decision said.
The delay is designed to give a federal judge in New Orleans the opportunity to rule on pending motions to throw out the suspensions and remove Tagliabue as the appointed arbitrator for the player appeals to the league, said the person, who spoke to the Associated Press on Monday on condition of anonymity because no rulings have been announced.
The NFLs decision to delay potential sanctions for four current or former Saints also means linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith may play Sunday when New Orleans hosts Tampa Bay.
If the sanctioned players find Tagliabues decision palatable, that could finally bring the bounty saga to an end more than nine months after the NFL first made public its investigation of New Orleans cash-for-hits program. If not, it will be up to U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to disqualify Tagliabue or let his ruling stand.
If Vilma, Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove get the ruling they seek, it would discredit an NFL investigation – overseen by Commissioner Roger Goodell – which covered three seasons and gathered about 50,000 pages of documents.
Tagliabues ruling will come after a new round of hearings that for the first time allowed Vilmas attorneys and the NFL Players Association, which represents the other three punished 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 investigation.
Also for the first time, the NFL allowed players attorneys to review all of the documents the NFL had collected, including some in which people stated that the players never did what they were accused of, the person who spoke with AP said.
Hargroves agent, Phil Williams, confirmed the settlement offer in an interview with CBS on Sunday but did not go into detail. In a phone interview with the AP on Monday, the agent said Hargrove already had been punished as bad as NFL can possibly punish a player.