The NFL Players Association is in a no-win situation. Do they try to protect the interests of the players punished by the NFL on Wednesday or do they protect the interests of the players the Saints were trying to injure?
The union's statement on Wednesday left no doubt where they stand.
"After seeing the NFL's decision letters, the NFLPA has still not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program. We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf," NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said.
We'd argue that the league presented some compelling evidence in their news release, including Anthony Hargrove confirming the bounty program in writing. But the league didn't have the evidence the players were looking for in part because the Saints stonewalled them. While the Saints players spoke previously to the league -- in Hargrove's case lying to them in 2010 -- they did not provide answers in 2012.
"A number of current and former players, including each player disciplined today, were offered the opportunity to be interviewed with counsel present," the NFL's release states. "One player (Hargrove) submitted a written statement in which he did not dispute the existence of the program, but no player agreed to be interviewed in person. In addition, the NFLPA publicly stated that it conducted its own investigation into this matter, but it has shared no information from that investigation with the NFL."
We find the union's position odd, but not surprising. Union's always battle punishment and try to make sure their players get paid. But don't they also have a duty to try to prevent bounties from happening in the future? That would protect more NFL players than trying to minimize the punishment for four players.
Eli Manning spoke on the topic Wednesday, saying that Commissioner Roger Goodell was "doing the right thing to make sure that this doesnât happen ever again."
A lot of players agree with Manning. The NFLPA is an awkward spot, but eliminating bounties should be an issue both sides can agree on.