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Fujita, Hargrove and Smith file 'reservation of rights' with league

While New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed a letter stating his intent to appeal his season-long suspension Monday, three other players suspended in the Saints "bounty" scandal jointly filed, through the NFL Players Association, a "reservation of rights" letter to the NFL.

Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith filed notice that they reserve the right to appeal their suspensions after a grievance filed by the NFLPA on their behalf is heard. The NFLPA is challenging commissioner Roger Goodell’s authority regarding the suspensions. The NFLPA states that no appeal should be heard until an arbitrator or arbitrators rule on two grievances that were filed last week are resolved. Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, also said that protocol also applies to Vilma.

Although the three players filed the "reservation of rights" to appeal in the Saints bounty ordeal, the league is treating it as if they have issued notification of appeal and met Monday's deadline to appeal their suspensions.

"I look forward to the opportunity to confront what evidence they claim to have in the appropriate forum," Fujita said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "I have never contributed money to any so-called 'bounty' pool, and any statements to the contrary are false. To say I'm disappointed with the league would be a huge understatement."

Players had until the end of business Monday to notify the NFL of their intent to appeal their suspensions. Fujita, a linebacker now with the Cleveland Browns, was suspended three games; Smith, a defensive end with the Saints, four games, and Hargrove now a defensive lineman now with Green Bay Packers, eight games. Vilma's suspension was to take effect immediately, but he is allowed to participate in offseason workouts during his appeals process.

The NFL has not set a timetable as to when Vilma’s appeal will be heard. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is reviewing the players' filings from Monday along with the grievance filings and will determine the next steps in the process.

The NFL meted out punishment against the players for participating in what it said was a pay-for-performance program in which players were paid out of a cash pool they funded to injure opponents from 2009 to 2011. The league says it has a preponderance of evidence to support its discipline. The players and the NFLPA said they've yet to see any evidence linking players to the program.

Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the season, assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games, general manger Mickey Loomis for eight games and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely for their roles in the program. All except Williams appealed their suspensions, which were denied by Goodell. Saints also were docked two second-round draft picks and fined $500,000, the maximum allowed by league rules.

The NFLPA, in its grievance, argues that Goodell does not have the authority to judge, rule and hear appeals against the players. The NFLPA states that based on negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011, that no players would be punished for actions prior to last season. The league disagrees, arguing that such an agreement was not made and that Goodell, according to the labor pact, has authority to rule and hear the appeals for "conduct detrimental." The bounty rulings fall under the "conduct detrimental" element of the labor agreemnt, according to the NFL.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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