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.”
“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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