ESPN.com is reporting that the NFL has offered to cut the suspension of New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma in half in a settlement deal. Commissioner Roger Goodell banned Vilma for the entire NFL season for his role in the bounty scandal as found by the NFL's investigation.
I can't believe my lying eyes. Goodell has been steadfast in player conduct, with fan approval for the most part. That does not stop players and a few fans from questioning Goodell's sovereign approach. Goodell and his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, collaborated with NFL PA executive director Gene Upshaw on these matters. Upshaw passed away in 2008.
Goodell has not worked out a similar partnership with DeMaurice Smith and that rankles players. The NFL triggered a bruising labor conflict with the lockout. Upshaw was a tough player and labor leader, but was a negotiator at heart. Smith is what the players hired him to be – a tough judicial in-fighter. Now, these matters are resolved in court rooms instead of back rooms. Back rooms are better.
Did the NFL blink when Vilma called their bluff? Hardly. Goodell's legal team is too good to proceed without substantial evidence, but that might not impress a jury pool that buys the players' premise that the commissioner has too much power.
The ESPN story pointed out that U.S. Judge Ginger Berrigan was skeptical of Goodell's action. Judges are respectful of labor contracts, like the current CBA, the source of Goodell's power.
I've wondered if Goodell wanted to impose the full suspension on Vilma and his cohorts. Could it be that he wanted them to appeal, so that he might seem magnanimous by cutting the sanction in half? That is the offer made to Vilma, if he drops his defamation suit.
The Saints did not miss Vilma in Sunday's Hall of Fame game against the Cardinals. New Orleans was safely ahead 17-7 by half time. The final score was 17-10.
Football Outsiders projects nine wins for the Saints this season.
This case is about defamation - not Goodell's power. A settlement proves the evidence Goodell used to convict Vilma may not have been enough for a 3rd party judge/jury. We should all be suspicious of that. I don't think we can suggest Goodell wanted this based on that farce of a "appeals process" with the coaches. Goodell's mind was made up from the start with zero regard for pertinent facts.