New Orleans Saints  

 

Jonathan Vilma's lawyer: Evidence shows no 'bounty' link to LB

The evidence the NFL provided to New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma on Friday in no way links the player to any "bounty" program, according to his lawyer, Peter Ginsberg.

The league, per rule, had to provide evidence for the basis of its discipline toward four suspended current and former Saints players by Friday since they have appeal hearings before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York on Monday.

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"We have followed the procedures set forth in the CBA on appeals of commissioner discipline," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press.

Ginsberg said the majority of the evidence centers on a PowerPoint slide show of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' directives and speeches to players. Ginsberg said there is other evidence besides the slide show, but none of it links Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita or Anthony Hargrove -- all suspended for part or all of the 2012 season by Goodell -- to putting bounties on opposing players.

"The NFL provided a slide show of Gregg Williams' most outrageous comments," Ginsberg said. "It is evidence that reflects an assistant coach in the NFL has a style that might rightfully be distasteful but that has been tolerated for years by several NFL teams. It in no way supports any of the accusations that Commissioner Goodell has so publicly made against Jonathan.

"There is nothing that evidences opposing players were targeted. There is nothing that evidences any of the players were involved in putting money on the heads of opposing players the way the Commissioner has suggested."

The evidence provided by the league to players Friday is the meat of what it will provide against the players in their appeal hearings in explaining why they have been suspended. The league has said for months that it has enough evidence that the players violated the "Conduct Detrimental" rules of the collective bargaining agreement by having a pay-for-performance program in place from 2009 to 2011.

The NFL Players Association and the players who have been suspended -- and some who have not -- said the league has yet to provide evidence linking players to a "bounty" program. The players have denied the existence of a program, at least as it pertains to injuring opponents. The league has said the players funded and actively participated in such a program for years, including last season.

Saints coach Sean Payton has been suspended for a year; Williams, who took over as the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator in 2012, indefinitely; Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games; and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games for their roles in the "bounty" program. In statements or public remarks, they took responsibility for the alleged wrongdoing.

"I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, (Saints owner Tom Benson) and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the 'pay-for-performance' program while I was with the Saints," stated Williams, the only suspended non-player not to appeal. "It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again."

Vilma, Fujita, Smith and Hargrove are appealing to have their discipline reduced or completely rescinded. They have lost two grievances before neutral arbitrators challenging Goodell's jurisdiction to rule on this case -- one is under appeal. Vilma also is suing Goodell for defamation. No court date for that case has been set.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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