NEW YORK -- The NFL and NFL Players Association met for four hours Monday at league headquarters, with heavy-hitters from both sides discussing a wide range of issues.
But with Saints quarterback Drew Brees and former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita in the room, the discussion was bound to hit the high-profile "bounty" program case that has dominated NFL headlines this offseason. And it did -- without much progress made.
Brees told NFL.com that when discussion turned to the "bounty" system, near the end of the meeting, "we didn't get any meaningful evidence, or any meaningful truth or facts." Asked if progress was made toward a resolution in the one unresolved area of the case -- player penalties -- Brees simply responded, "No."
The league already has sanctioned the team, coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. All but Williams appealed the penalties, which the NFL upheld after appeals. Payton's season-long suspension started Monday.
Loomis has been suspended for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games for their involvement in the program, in which defensive players were financially rewarded from 2009 to 2011 for injuring opponents. Williams, now the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator, has been suspended indefinitely for his role in the scandal.
Brees emphasized that he attended Monday's meeting not only as a member of the Saints but also in his role as an NFLPA executive committee member. Both he and Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, serve on the union's ruling board.
The league and union routinely have meetings like Monday's to address unresolved issues, though the presence of the "bounty" scandal clearly loomed over this one.
When asked about progress toward closure in the Saints case, NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth said: "We met. We met." He then added: "It's mostly coincidental that Drew and Scott are here, they're also executive committee members, so they're here to serve their duties as executive committee members, not necessarily as members of the Saints. Obviously Drew is, and Scott was a member of the Saints, that's true. But they're capacity here is as executive committee members."
Fujita declined comment when approached outside NFL headquarters.
Also part of the union's contingent were NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, general counsel Richard Berthelsen and assistant general counsel Heather McPhee, as well as Fulbright and Jaworski lawyer Richard Smith, the outside counsel whom the union hired to handle the Saints case.
While the group clearly was geared to handle the "bounty" situation, Foxworth said human growth hormone testing was "No. 1 on the list." That discussion, per the union president, went better than talks on the Saints situation.
"We did discuss HGH testing, and that is somewhere where we're making some progress, Foxworth said. "So today's meeting was productive in quite a few ways."
Asked if he believed there'd be HGH testing in 2012, Foxworth said: "I can't put a definite answer on that. We're moving forward, and it's something that's important to both sides. We want a healthy and safe game, and one thing that's paramount in our minds is presenting a great image for youth that want to be like us. That's motivated a lot of our decisions, and most of our health and safety initiatives, and HGH testing falls right in line with that."
And other topics were covered before the Saints issue was broached.
"There are several different concerns facing the union going forward, and we have a few issues that needed to be resolved, in altering the CBA to some degree," Foxworth said. "We talked about a ton of things, from workers comp issues all the way to Pro Bowl competitiveness and relocation. We did touch on the Saints issue toward the end, but that wasn't chief concern of today's meeting."
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is widely expected to receive the harshest punishment among the Saints players from the league, but others also could be in the crosshairs. The union interviewed Brees, as well as Fujita and defensive captain Will Smith, at its player rep meeting last month in Marco Island, Fla.
Fujita also has a close relationship with Steve Gleason, the ALS-stricken former Saint who invited filmmaker Sean Pamphilon into a defensive meeting on the night before the team's NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers three months ago. That's when Pamphilon recorded Williams' much-publicized speech calling for Saints players to target 49ers players' injuries.
The union was aware of the tape before it was released by Pamphilon and issued a statement Monday confirming that.
"The NFLPA was aware of the existence of the Gregg Williams audio prior to its release," the statement said. "We learned of the tape as part of our effort to obtain any and all information related to an alleged pay-to-injure scheme. We had no control of the content and did not make a determination on the method of its release. To date, the NFL has not provided the NFLPA with detailed evidence of the existence of such a program."