Commissioner Goodell re-issues bounty discipline

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith on Tuesday for their

role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and reduced penalties for Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.

Though an appeal panel created by the NFL's labor agreement vacated the original suspensions on technical grounds, Goodell

ruled he was sticking with his decision to suspend Vilma for the season and Smith for four games.

Hargrove, a free agent defensive lineman, will face a two-game suspension once he signs with a team. He originally was hit

with eight games, but that was reduced to seven with five games already served. Fujita, who plays for Cleveland, will now

miss only one game instead of three.

Despite Goodell's new rulings, the seven-month old bounty saga is not over.

Vilma offered a response on Twitter, that read, in part, "this is not news to me pride won't let him admit he's wrong." Smith

issued a statement saying he will continue to explore his appeal options.

The players were implicated in what the NFL

said was a bounty pool run by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg

Williams

and paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.

The players have acknowledged a pool but denied they intended

to injure anyone.

The players can delay their suspensions by

appealing again through their labor contract, which they have three days

to do.

They could also ask a federal judge in New Orleans to revisit

their earlier request for an injunction blocking the suspensions.

Still, Goodell upheld parts, or all of the players' suspensions.

"The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental (to the game) are far greater

and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases," Goodell said in a memorandum to the 32 clubs.

Goodell's new ruling comes about a month

after an appeal panel vacated the original suspensions on technical

grounds during

Week 1 of the regular season. The panel did not address the merits

of the league's investigation. It merely asked Goodell

to clarify to extent to which his ruling involved conduct

detrimental to the league, which he has the sole authority to handle,

and salary cap violations resulting from bonus payments, which

would have to be ruled upon by an arbitrator other than the

commissioner.

"In my recent meetings with the players and

their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an

opportunity to

tell their side of the story," Goodell wrote. "In those meetings,

the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in

our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash

rewards for 'cart-offs,' that players were encouraged to

'crank up the John Deere tractor' and have their opponents carted

off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for

plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field

of play."

Only Smith and Fujita have played this

season. Vilma has been recovering from offseason knee surgery and hopes

to return in

two weeks when the Saints play at Tampa Bay. The Saints linebacker

is on the physically unable to perform list for the first

six weeks of the season and Goodell's new ruling said that Vilma

can be paid for that period.

Smith issued a statement after the new rulings were announced.

"I remain frustrated with the continued

unilateral rulings by this commissioner as he continues to disregard the

facts and

assault my character," Smith said in the statement. "Let me be

clear— I never participated in a 'pay-to-injure program,' never

took the field with intent to injure another player, and never

contributed any money to hurt other players. It was my hope

that those investigating would put their arrogance and agenda

aside in order to comprehend the difference between a

'pay-for-performance

program' and a 'pay-to-injure program,' but until that day, I will

continue to pursue my appeal options through the NFLPA,

and attempt to return to work for my family, teammates, fans and

the city of New Orleans."

The NFLPA also remained critical of Goodell's decision to punish the players and the process by which he reached his decisions.

"For more than six months, the NFL has

ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective

bargaining agreement

and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure

anyone, ever," the said in a written statement. "The only

evidence that exists is the League's gross violation of fair due

process, transparency and impartiality during this process.

Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league's

refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake."

The players initially declined to meet with Goodell before he made his initial disciplinary rulings in early May or during

the first appeal process that lasted until the first week of the regular season.

Goodell began to reconsider his disciplinary

actions after the Sept. 7 appeal panel ruling and this time all four

players

agreed to meet with him. During those meetings the NFL produced

sworn declarations by Williams and another former defensive

assistant, Mike Cerullo, in which they stated that they observed

Vilma offering what they believed were $10,000 rewards for

knocking then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Minnesota

quarterback Brett Favre out of 2009-10 playoff games.

Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, did not

immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling, though Vilma

has indicated

he would be inclined to continue to fight his punishment in

federal court. U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan has stated

that she found the NFL's disciplinary process unfair and that she

would be inclined to rule grant Vilma at least a temporary

restraining order if she believed she had jurisdiction on the

matter.

However, Berrigan also has stated that she is hesitant to rule until she is certain the players have exhausted all possible

remedies available to them through the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.

The other three players have been

represented by the NFLPA, which stated it will carefully review

Goodell's latest decision

and "protect our players' rights with vigilance," but did not

disclose any immediate plans to take the matter back to court.