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Jonathan Vilma waits on Roger Goodell's 'bounty' ruling

As we await NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision whether to uphold the varying suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players for their roles in the team's "bounty" program, the legal machine for both sides is cranking up even more.

Let's break down where we stand and what likely lies ahead in the off-field story of the NFL season that isn't going away any time soon.

Goodell will rule whether he'll stick to the suspensions for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (2012 season), defensive end Will Smith (four games) and former SaintsAnthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, (eight games) and Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns (three games). Since the players did not defend themselves at the appeals hearings, Goodell is expected to stick to his initial punishment. No timetable is set for his ruling but it is expected within the next few weeks.

Once that ruling comes down, players are projected to file a lawsuit against Goodell in federal court, challenging his jurisdiction and authority to rule, the evidence used against them and the investigation process.

Vilma's attorneys tipped their plans Wednesday by filing notice in a Louisiana federal court that Vilma planned to file an injunction to delay any punishment until all legal proceedings are completed. The three other players, who are represented by NFL Players Association lawyers, are expected to follow suit. If injunctions were granted, the players could play until the legal maneuvering is final.

Vilma filed the preemptive injunction notice with Judge Helen Berrigan in the Eastern District Court of Louisiana. She is the same judge assigned to Vilma's defamation suit against Goodell. The rationale for this, according to Tulane Sports Law Director Gabe Feldman, is Vilma can argue that both cases are related, and by using this argument, the cases could be tied together and expedited.

As for the defamation lawsuit, Goodell has until July 5 -- and he is expected to wait until that date -- to respond to Vilma's defamation claims. He is expected to argue that, because of the collective bargaining agreement, there are no grounds to litigate in court. Vilma's lawyer is arguing it should go to court under common-law defamation, which he says is outside the realm of the CBA.

Once Goodell's response is filed, the court could decide to hear the case and set a date or not allow it, taking away one aspect of the mounting litigation.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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