More legal moves made in Saints' bounty case

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More legal moves made in Saints' bounty case

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of three players suspended in connection with the bounty investigation, calling Commissioner Roger Goodell "incurably and evidently biased." The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove on Thursday in federal court in New Orleans, highlighted a flurry of legal activity surrounding the punishment of four players for what the NFL says was their roles in a program that paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents. Suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who is suing separately in the same court, asked a judge to overturn his suspension while also requesting a temporary restraining order and injunction that would allow the linebacker to quickly return to work and keep working while his case is pending. Goodell, meanwhile, filed a motion to dismiss defamation claims that Vilma made in his initial lawsuit against the commissioner in May. The motion, which was expected, states that Vilma is barred from making such claims by the dispute resolution process outlined in the NFL's labor agreement, which also includes a provision barring lawsuits by players against the NFL. But Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsburg, said the defamation claims focus "exclusively on statements Mr. Goodell has made publicly and outside the confines of the CBA." "Mr. Goodell cannot escape responsibility for those public statements based on an argument that statements in a different forum and in a different context might have avoided judicial scrutiny," Ginsberg said in an email. "Having the title of Commissioner' does not provide Mr. Goodell with a license to make the accusations and allegations he has made against Jonathan in public forums without facing the same scrutiny as other citizens." The Saints linebacker, whose suspension is effective immediately, wants the injunction so he may resume rehabilitating his left knee injury at Saints headquarters. Vilma is suspended for a season, Hargrove for eight games, Smith four and Fujita three. Vilma and Smith still play for New Orleans, while Hargrove is with Green Bay and Fujita with Cleveland. The NFLPA lawsuit said Goodell violated the league's labor agreement by showing he had pre-determined the guilt of players punished in the bounty probe before serving as the arbitrator for their June 18 appeal hearing. Two days ago, Goodell denied the players' appeals, and now the NFLPA is asking a judge to set aside earlier arbitration rulings and order a new arbitrator to preside over the matter. The NFL responded that the action is an "improper attempt to litigate" and said there is "no basis for asking a federal court to put its judgment in place of the procedures agreed upon with the NFLPA in collective bargaining." "These procedures have been in place, and have served the game and players well, for many decades," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email to The Associated Press. The NFL has said it found that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran a bounty program that paid improper cash bonuses for injuring opponents. Saints had coach Sean Payton has been suspended the entire 2012 season for failing to put a stop to it, while general manager Mickey Loomis has been suspended half a season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games. Williams, now with St. Louis, is suspended indefinitely and, according to the NFL, cooperating with the investigation. The players, however, have claimed they never sought or accepted rewards for injuring opponents. Fujita has said the NFL grossly mischaracterized what was an informal accountability program for teammates to reward one another for big plays such as sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions, something players on many teams have taken part in for years. Several current Saints defensive players who have not been punished, including safety Roman Harper and linebacker Scott Shanle, have publicly defended their current and former teammates, denying that any Saints player sought to do anything more than what they were already paid to do -- deliver clean hits as hard as they could. Some players have also suggested that Goodell's bounty punishments are part of an agenda to make the league look tough on player-safety matters in order to mitigate exposure to lawsuits filed by numerous retired NFL players who claim the league failed to educate them about or prepare them for many of the long-term physical ailments, including brain disease, that a pro football career can cause. "A seminal question for this court is whether the NFL collective bargaining agreement ... granted the commissioner, when serving as an arbitrator, the authority to disregard the essence of the parties' agreement, to conduct proceedings that are fundamentally unfair, and to act with evident bias and without jurisdiction," the lawsuit states. "The answer, under governing case law, is clearly no.' "The investigation and arbitration process that the Commissioner's public relations machinery touted as thorough and fair' has, in reality, been a sham," the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit said the NFL violated the labor agreement by refusing to provide players with access to "critical documents or witnesses, or anything resembling the fairness mandated by the CBA and governing industrial due process law." The suit also states that Goodell "launched a public campaign defending the punishments he intended to arbitrate, rendering him incurably and evidently biased." The NFLPA also reiterated a claim that the CBA requires much of the "pay-for-performance" conduct outlined in the NFL's bounty investigation to be handled by a system arbitrator and not the commissioner, who has "improperly usurped" control over that process. The NFL has argued that the bounty matter falls under conduct detrimental to the league, which the commissioner has authority to punish. Two arbitration rulings so far have ruled in the NFL's favor on that matter, but the NFLPA lawsuit says the NFL's handling of the bounty matter amounts to a "rare case" in which the arbitrators' previous rulings should be set aside. The union contends one arbitrator, Stephen Burbank, based his ruling on a statement that he saw his jurisdiction covering only improper payments made to players, but not the payments the NFL has said players made into the bounty pool. "This distinction cannot be justified by the CBA, nor can it override the fact that the NFLPA has never agreed to arbitrate these types of disputes before the Commissioner," the lawsuit said. Included with the 55-page lawsuit are 400 pages of exhibits, including about 200 pages of evidence that the NFL presented at the appeal hearing. The lawsuit notes that those documents represent a "sparse" sampling of the 18,000 documents totaling about 50,000 pages that the league said it compiled during its investigation. One exhibit is a sworn declaration from Duke Naipohn, a fatigue risk management specialist who was working closely with the Saints defense throughout the 2011 season. Naipohn said he attended most defensive meetings and never saw bounties placed on opposing players or saw Saints players rewarded for injuring opponents.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.